The study examines the discipline of discourse analysis with a focus on critical discourse analysis (CDA) as an aspect of discourse studies. The methodology is a descriptive/library research. Findings reveal that critical discourse analysis is an aspect of discourse analysis that focuses on three major issues of ideology, power and institution. While dialectal-relational approach, socio-cognitive discourse, and discourse historical approach are some of the principles of CDA; dispositive analysis, critical social theory, socio-psychological theory, corpus-linguistics approach, and social actors approach are some of the theories of CDA, and both principles and theories are interrelated.

  1. Introduction

Language is a phenomenon which is related to our social and cognitive development right from our childhood and plays a very crucial role in the formation of our identity. Whatever we say always contains some meaning and represents our perception toward a certain thing or phenomenon. Language plays a very important role because every action particularly a political action is accompanied and in fact influenced and played by the language we use. We have always got a particular way of understanding and perceiving language. And the way we perceive language builds the foundation of our social construction and individual as well as group relationships. And some branches of linguistics, like discourse studies and cognitive linguistics, have tried to explain what kind of relationship is there between the use of language and importance of perception. Because the way we make use of language tells our intention toward any important issue either political or social.

Discourse either spoken or written can emerge from many sources like cultural, social or power background. Language always has its surface and real meanings and surface meanings differ from that of real meanings, and it is in fact one of the aims of discourse to show how language is working and what context it is being used in. according to Yalden, “..Using a language involves something that goes beyond the acquisition of structures and the ability to make appropriate choices in the realization of the particular language functions.” (39).

Every language finds its ways in discourse and in order to understand a speech or a text it becomes necessary to get into the depth of that very spoken or written text and go for the context of it; because unless the text is seen as having more than surface meanings, it would not be easy to get the real meaning and understand the motive and intention of the speaker. Discourse always intends to bring forth the context of what is said to light which may otherwise not be transparent enough to a reader and listener. These underlying meanings are interpreted to expose issues of dominance, inequality and power relations between the interlocutors. This becomes the purview of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). This study examines discourse analysis, critical discourse analysis, principles of CDA and the theories of CDA.

  1. Discourse and Discourse Analysis

The term Discourse is broad with many definitions. It ‘integrates a whole palette of meanings’ (Horvath, npn). The Wikipedia states that the word discourse is derived from the Latin word discursus which means to and from’ (npn). Literally, discourse refers to communication of thought by words or a formal discussion of a subject in speech or writing. A plausible definition of discourse is offered by Stubbs as ‘language above the sentence or above the clause’ (2). In the same vein, Tenorio (4) states that discourse ‘is the highest unit of linguistic description; phonemes, morphemes, words, phrases, clauses, sentences and text are below’. This definition offers a syntactic description or explanation of discourse. Adopting a different view, Van Dijk asserts that discourse is ‘text in context’ (3). Dijk’s position offers a sociolinguistics outlook on the notion of discourse by taking cognizance of the situation it occurs. Context is significant because discourse does not take place in a vacuum and must be by definite participants or interactants.

Despite the various definitions offered by linguists, Schiffrin conceives that ‘discourse can be interpreted in wider range than any other term in linguistic areas, yet it has been least accurately defined’ (40). This is relatively in consonance with Richardson’s view which implies that discourse is a term that is used fashionably in various disciplines and becomes ‘one of the most well used words in academics today’ (21). In other words, the term is frequently used and adopted in other academic fields, thus leading to its diverse definitions. Paltridge (2) offers that Zellig Harris; a well-known linguist was the first to use the term ‘discourse’ in 1952 during a paper he presented on Discourse Analysis. However, Discourse as a field only gained much interest during the 1970s when it eventually developed as a critique of cognitive process in communication. It is based on the notion that language needs a context for it to function properly. In this regard, Ahmad (1) stressed that it is ‘difficult to understand the linguistic items used in discourse without a context’.

The context is relevant in discourse such that it is part of the three perspectives outlined by Van Dijk to define or critically understand discourse. They are: linguistic, cognitive and socio-cultural. First, he argues that discourse is described at the syntactic, semantic and stylistic levels (linguistics perspective). Secondly, he adds that it needs to be understood from the interlocutors’ processes of production, reception and understanding (cognitive) and finally he points to the social dimension of discourse which he sees as a sequence of contextualized, controlled and purposeful acts that occur in the society: context (socio-cultural). In sum, discourse is multidisciplinary. It is a social performance, an interpersonal activity whose form is determined by its social purpose.

Discourse Analysis is a cover term for the many traditions by which discourse may be analysed. Osisanwo (8) notes that, ‘popular as discourse analysis is among modern linguists, coming up with a comprehensive and acceptable definition of the term has been a herculean task’. To solve this linguistics conundrum, Brown and Yule in Osisanwo provided an apt definition as ‘the analysis of discourse is necessarily the analysis of language in use’ (8). This definition implied that discourse overtly presupposes communication; therefore discourse analysis is the method of studying discourse. Stubbs in Osisanwo offered a syntax-oriented view of discourse analysis as an attempt to study ‘the organization of language above the sentence or above the clause, and therefore to study larger linguistic units, such as conversational exchanges or written texts’ (8).

Schriffin explains that ‘it is a critique of cognitivism (objective, observable/knowable reality) that developed from the 1970s onwards, although it has its roots in the turn to language in the 1950s’ (34). Crystal in Mills asserted that ‘discourse analysis focuses on the structure of naturally occurring spoken language, as found in such discourses as conversations, interviews, commentaries and speeches’ (3). This corroborates Van Dijk’s view on Discourse analysis as a modality for construction of theories in clarifying the existing relations between language use, thoughts or beliefs and social interactions. He goes further to correct the general misconception that discourse analysis can only be done on spoken language since there is an evident interaction between speakers. On the contrary, written materials can also be analysed because readers assimilate what they are reading in spite of what may seem as passive interaction between a reader and the text.

Discourse analysis is a rapidly growing and vast field. Discourse explains how texts relate to contexts of situation and context of culture. How texts are produced as a social practice, what texts tell us about happenings and what people think and belief. Text analysis is the study of formal linguistic devices that distinguish a text from random sentences. Discourse analysis takes into account the text-forming devices with reference to the functions for which the discourse was produced, and the context within which the discourse was created. The very aim of discourse analysis is to show how the linguistic elements help language users communicate. It includes the ways in which people assume meanings of a text within a given context.

In a nutshell, Mills agreed that ‘discourse analysis could be seen as a reaction to a more traditional form of linguistics (formal, structural linguistics) which focused on the constituent units and structure of the sentence and which does not concern itself with an analysis of language in use’ (135). It is concerned with translating the notion of structure from the level of the sentence to the level of longer text.

  1. Discourse and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)

As people interact in the form of dialogue or any other speech situation, they use language which, in most cases, is laden with implicit meanings. In any instance of discourse, “there are certain underlying ideologies which are opaque and are, in turns, products of social context which the discourse belongs.” (Ike- Nwafor 1) When there is a conversation between interlocutors, there is often an implicit ideology which explicitly manifests through the exercise of social power and dominance. This is made more manifest, especially, when the conversation is made between a dominant social actor and a dominated social actor; the former being described by Wodak and Meyer as “powerful groups” (3) while the latter is described as the “dominated groups” (Van Dijk 96).

There has been a radical shift of emphasis by linguists from the structure of the text to what and how the text is used to function in the social process. The knowledge of Discourse makes us believe that the intent, coherence, and rhetoric of an utterance and the social background of the speaker/writer and the listener/reader promote a better understanding of a text and talk. Discourse is, therefore, communication achieved beyond the physical text. This explains Stubbs definition of discourse as “language above the sentence or above the clause” (1).

It is essentially the study of language in use.

Discourse is viewed as a social performance or a social activity. It is a relative social phenomenon that depends solely on a wide range of disciplines, such as Psychology, Anthropology, Philosophy, Anthropological Linguistics, Sociology, Cognitive and Social Psychology. According to Fairclough, “Discourse constitutes the social. Three dimensions of the social are distinguished- knowledge, social relations, and social identity-and these correspond respectively to three major functions of language… Discourse is shaped by relations of power and invested with ideologies” (8).

When a text or talk is subjected to interrogation with the aim of discovering hidden meanings and value structures, discourse becomes ‘critical.’ This analysis is carried out when the hearer or reader uses all linguistic features and cues available to him in the ‘said’ to generate meanings from the ‘unsaid’ in a manner that exposes power and abuse of power, dominance, inequality and invested institutional ideologies in the discourse of a powerful group, then Discourse studies is said to be in the domain of Critical Discourse Analysis. Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), is, therefore, “a type of discourse analytical research that primarily studies the way social power abuse, dominance, and inequality are enacted, reproduced, and resisted by text and talk in the social and political context” (Van Dijk 1). Wodak and Meyer believe that every discourse is structured by dominance and the “dominant structures are legitimated by the ideologies of powerful groups” (3). CDA is a mixture of a linguistic and social theory that focuses on discourse within social practice. The knowledge of the grammar, phonology and the structural patterns of a text or talk is no doubt, very important. It has become very necessary, however, to look beyond these primary linguistic features of the language and dissect every utterance to see if there is more to know, that the structure of the language ordinarily would not offer by merely probing its grammaticality. No doubt, language, therefore, is no longer just for “reflecting reality, it is central for creating reality” (Ike- Nwafor 2).

Critical Discourse Analysis is relatively a new approach to the study of language. Before now, scholars across the globe were more interested in the structural patterns and forms of language. For many decades, the preoccupation of many linguists has been the study of grammar and other aspects of language. Recent researches by linguists have clearly shown a revolutionary shift of attention from language form to language functions (Fairclough 1992; Leeuwen 2008; Van Dijk 1977). This has opened a new vista to the study of language and provoked a scholarly investigation into the use of language in social context and how the opaque ideology embedded in a discourse can be unveiled. Critical Discourse Analysis is an investigative approach that is essentially concerned with unearthing the opaque meaning that underlies the discourse of social actors in a manner that exposes the display of power and abuse of power, dominance, and inequality among them. In other words, it is an exercise that endeavours to make explicit, power relationships which are frequently hidden in text and talk (Meyer 15). Critical Discourse Analysis is also concerned with “unveiling the implicit and explicit oppression, discrimination and power that are manifest in discourse- both spoken and written” (Dellinger npn.). Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is a contemporary approach to the study of language and discourses in social institutions. It focuses on the way and manner language exercises its power in the society. Critical Discourse Analysis began from the assumption that systematic asymmetries of power and resources between speakers and listeners, readers and writers can be linked to their unequal access to linguistic and social resources. It hinges on the notion that language use is a social practice which does not function in isolation but in a set of cultural, social and psychological frameworks. CDA accepts this social context and studies its connections with textual structures. It also takes the social context into account and explores the links between textual structures and their function interaction within the society. The terms Critical Linguistics (CL) and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) are often used interchangeably. However, the latter is often preferred and used to denote the former theory previously identified as Critical Linguistics. CDA is a relatively new approach in discourse studies, whose emergence could be traced to a small symposium of discourse scholars in Amsterdam in 1990 and headed by Van Dijk. He views CDA as;
a type of discourse analytical research that primarily studies the way social power abuse, dominance and inequality are enacted, reproduced and resisted by text and talk in the social and political context. With such dissident research, critical discourse analysts take explicit position and thus want to understand, expose and ultimately resist social inequality. (23)

One cannot discuss CDA without recourse to the views of some prominent scholars in Critical Discourse Analysis. Some of these are discussed below:

  1. Ideological Discursive Formations

Ideological Discursive Formations (IDFs) is a concept in CDA that is associated with Fairclough. He labels this notion as IDFs by presenting a social institution as a sort of ideological or speech community. He considers social institution as ideological institution. Fairclough believes that behaviour and discourse are ideologically motivated. He views Critical Discourse Analysis as ideological analysis. In an abstract to his work, Critical Discourse Analysis: the Critical Study of Language (1995), he says:

I view social institutions as containing diverse ‘ideological-discursive formations’ (IDFs) associated with different groups within the institution. There is usually one IDF which is clearly dominant… Institutional subjects are constructed, in accordance with the norms of an IDF, in subject positions whose ideological underpinnings they may be unaware of. A characteristic of a dominant IDF is the capacity to ‘naturalize’ ideologies, i.e. to win acceptance for them as non-ideological ‘common sense’… To ‘denaturalize’ them is the objective of a discourse analysis which adopts ‘critical’ goals. (27)

According to Fairclough, these IDFs frame participants’ roles in every social institution and that makes it “generally possible to identify a ‘dominant’ IDF and one or more ‘dominated’ IDFs” (14). Fairclough explains that contentions or struggles between forces within social institutions come about as a result of the penchant for maintaining a dominant IDF by the dominating group, as well as suppressing an existing IDF by the dominated group with a view to replacing it. This is practically manifested when an erring student refuses to accept, say charges of late-coming offence by a school prefect. Indeed, some students are bold to suppress the dominant IDF of the prefects even when they are aware that their actions might lead them to a more serious punishment. A student is said to have replaced an existing IDF if he/she succeeds in convincing the prefect to see things from his own point of view (ideology)

Commenting on Fairclough’s notion of IDFs, Ike-Nwafor (77) explains that his (Fairclough’s) analysis goes beyond the “whatness” of text description towards the “howness” and “whyness” of text interpretation and explanation. This explains why critical analysts dig deep to ask the fundamental questions: who produces a text? To whom is a text addressed? How and why is a text produced? A perfect answer to each of the questions above would reveal the source of power and also show the reason for the ideologically laden language of a text. Closely related to the above notion is the clear definition Fairclough gives of the relationship between power and language in his work, Language and Power (2001). Fairclough looks at power as social power and ideology and shows how texts mediate “orderliness” and how “orders of discourse” depends on naturalized ideologies (27-53).


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