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A NOTE ON CRITICAL DISCOURSE ANALYSIS
S. Imtiaz Hasnain, Ph.D.
1. KNOWING A LANGUAGE
What does it mean to know a language? To know a language would mean to have the ability to discern and interpret shapes both in sound and letter form as meaningful. "A Play on Words," a humorous play by Eugene Field, quite aptly draws our attention to this ability:
Assert ten barren love day made
Dan wood her hart buy nigh tan day;
But wen knee begged she'd marry hymn,
The crewel bell may dancer neigh.
(from Aitchison 1987:134-5)
A Standard written version of the same verse is as follows:
A certain baron loved a maid
And wooed her heart by night and day;
But when he begged she'd marry him,
The cruel belle made answer nay.
To know a language would mean to know the grammar of a language, that which constitutes native speaker's competence in that language.
2. KNOWING A LANGUAGE AND HAVING A KNOWLEDGE OF THAT LANGUAGE
It is one thing to know a language. It is quite a different thing to have knowledge of the language. To have a knowledge of the language is to look at the linguistic features (or the notion of sign) not as an arbitrary conjunct of signifiers (forms) and signifieds (meanings), but as socially and ideologically motivated structures, where the motivation is derived from the 'interest' of the producers of the sign in their social histories and present social locations.
To have knowledge of the language is to have a theory that is fully social, which allows social categories (for example, social class, age, gender) to become the categories, which are productive of linguistic forms, at all levels of language from morpheme to textual structure. And to have knowledge of the language is to have knowledge of the ways in which language is mobilized in defense of domination and the ways in which discursive practices are used to produce and reproduce ideology in the interest of an identifiable social class or cultural groups and continue to maintain the existing power structure.
3. DISCURSIVE PRACTICES
What are the discursive practices? These are happenings, which fall into the categories of production and reproduction of social, historical and cultural life manifesting, not only linguistic mechanisms but also devices of a different order, such as those that reproduce ideology and maintain the power structure.
Discursive practices imply the following three considerations that need to be taken into account in Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA):
- The sharp division between what is said and what is done must be eliminated.
- Discursive practices, like all socio-cultural practices, which shape addressers and receivers through their participation in the discourse.
- Discursive practices can rigorously be analyzed only by taking into account their conditions of production and reception. These conditions impregnate and leave their mark on discourse, although these marks may not be directly perceived by the addresser and receiver and may go through a long series of mediations.
These discursive practices allow the receivers to take the message conveyed by a medium on its face value. We must remember that there is nothing neutral about any message, even thought at face value the words that express the message may be so carefully chosen to represent "higher" values, or views allegedly held by all, or simply a message of exhortation of positive thinking, etc.
Closer home, the recent India Shining advertisements illustrate this functionality of discursive uses of language.
4. ENCODING A VIEWPOINT AND IDEOLOGY
All representations encode a viewpoint and ideology, even if their linguistic patterns claim an apparent neutrality, certainty, and truth value. Commercial advertisements and political declarations and discourses greatly illustrate this. Hence knowledge of the language would mean the understanding readers and hearers may have or may develop as to why a particular linguistic form has been selected at the cost of rejecting others. It is the discoursal function of language, which meets conditions of production and reproduction of social, historical, and cultural life required in the maintenance of power structure through the rules of exclusion.
5. COMMON-SENSE NOTIONS OF DISCOURSE
Before we go into providing a theoretical description of discourse from this viewpoint, a few words about the common-sense notion of 'discourse' as we know it from everyday language use and the dictionary are in order. Here, the term 'discourse' refers usually to a form of language use, or public speeches, or more generally to spoken language, or ways of speaking.
For instance, when we refer to 'the discourse of former Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi', or 'the discourse of J. Krishnamurti,' etc., another increasingly popular but still informal use of the term is adopted and this usage is rather common in the media and some of the social sciences. When people refer to 'the discourse of communism' or 'the discourse of capitalism,' etc., this kind of usage is adopted. In this case, 'discourse' refers not merely to how language is used by the communists or capitalists, but also to the ideas or philosophy propagated by them.
Yet another "common-sense" definition of 'discourse' is when people consider it as a unit of language larger than a sentence that accomplishes syntactic, semantic and pragmatic rules. It revolves around the syntagmatic relations (order and sequence) and is governed by the cohesive devices in language (anaphora and cataphora, etc.).
6. LOOKING AT DISCOURSE AS REPRESENTING SOCIAL PRACTICE
The common-sense notion of 'discourse' is rather na´ve and too innocuous. Discourse is not simply a unit of language larger than a sentence. What is required of us is to look at discourse by going beyond such common-sense definitions. We need to look at language as a social practice and treat discourse as ruled by the conditions of its production and reception and as constituting a distinctive socio-cultural practice that is institutionalized to a greater or lesser degree.
7. TOUCHING UPON THE PARADIGMATIC RELATIONS
Discourse is the ways of using language in the Foucaultian sense of touching upon the paradigmatic relations (range of options for selection). Why has a particular option been selected and the others left out? Options that move around the binary contrasts of selection versus rejection, inclusion versus exclusion, acceptance versus denial, or social oppositions such as the distinction between the represented versus marginalized, or that which is kept in silence become very important.
(a) Demonstrators are shot.
(b) Police shoot demonstrators.
In (b), the agent of the action ('Police') is placed in the prime position and the active verb ('shoot') attributes the action clearly. In (a) the agent has been deleted by the passivization of the verb form. Here it is the recipient of the action ('demonstrators') who is the focus and appears almost to be responsible for the events.
8. THE FOUCAULTIAN SENSE OF DISCOURSE
It is in this Foucaultian sense that discourse conditions of production and reception are met. There are three possible discourse conditions of production and reception, namely:
- Discourse possibility conditions: It operates through the rules of exclusion. For example, discourse on standard language, national language, standardization, etc., which support the established power structure. For, any elevation of a particular social dialect into becoming a standard language is based on the support of the established power structure. It is also suggestive of a complex and unceasing process of permission and denial, exclusion and inclusion, an ordering that includes decisions such as which one of the possibilities is to be selected and which one is to be rejected, who can be represented, and who is to remain in silence, or repressed. As Foucault points out, what is expressed in discourse is nothing more than the repressive presence of what has been excluded from it.
- Inter-discursive processes: It implies that a previous discourse is present in a later discourse, that is, discursive practices are interrelated. There is a diachronic inter-discursive process manifested through a continuous comparison of the crisis situation to its historical antecedents. There is a synchronic inter-discursive process, which interweaves other discourses proceeding from different present time events.
- Imaginary formations: Here the subjects of discourse make representations about themselves, about their interlocutor and about the object of discourse. According to Pecheaux, subjects do not perceive themselves as single individuals, but in terms of the positions they occupy in the social structure. They are similarly perceived by the interlocutors. Through the imaginary formations, their individuality is transformed into that of boss, company manager, chairman, etc., enabling the interlocutor to anticipate their responses and plan his/her discursive strategies.
9. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LANGUAGE AND POWER
This knowledge of language from its discoursal perspective brings us close to the issue revolving around the relationship between language and power. This knowledge of language is a precursor to Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). Here, 'Critical' signals a view of language which sees it as central to the working of ideology, as a key means of mobilizing meaning to sustain or contest relations of domination in society.
Let us take the following example to show how CDA can be used as a means of analyzing the discursive construction of language ideologies in multilingual societies. We simply take the headline as a text published in The Hindu about three months ago for illustration:
Row Over Hindi Signposts
It may appear to be the reporting of a minor political disagreement over the erection of signposts in one of the major scheduled languages. But the focus on text and discourse practices at work will be quite illuminating. Analytical scrutiny of the text allows connections to be made with the socio-cultural practices in which the article is located.
According to Roget's Thesaurus row is closely associated with racket and riot. Nominalization of the action here, in which the process is represented as a Noun, obfuscates agency, causality and responsibility. Further, signposts in themselves are unlikely to cause disagreement, let alone riot. However, something about their being Hindi must have caused this disturbance. Because signposts lack agency, individuals or groups must cause the row. The lexical item Hindi can refer to a people as well as to a language. Thus the only group visible (metonymically) in the headline is the Hindi group. Implicitly, something about the Hindi group has caused a row. Hence, the only culprit appears to be the Hindi group. This simple example clearly shows how CDA is able to analyze relationships of dominance, discrimination, power and control as manifested in language.
10. THE CRITICAL DISCOURSE ANALYSIS
The critical approach is distinctive in its view of the relationship both between language and society and between analysis and the practices analyzed. CDA states that discourse is socially constitutive as well as socially conditioned. It is an opaque power object in modern societies and the aim of the CDA is to make it more visible and transparent. It does so, on the basis of the following three-dimensional framework:
- Discourse-as-text, that is, the linguistic features and organization of concrete instances of discourse, choices and patterns in vocabulary (for example, wording, metaphor, etc.), grammar (transitivity, modality, etc.), cohesion and text structure (for example, episoding, turn-taking system, etc.) should be systematically analyzed.
- Discourse-as-discursive practice, that is, discourse as something that is produced, circulated, distributed, consumed in society. Approaching discourse as discursive practice means that in analyzing vocabulary, grammar, cohesion and text structure, attention should be given to speech acts, coherence and inter-textuality - three aspects that link a text to its context.
- Discourse-as-social practice, that is, ideological effects and hegemonic processes in which discourse is a feature.
Fairclough and his school also integrated a wide range of sociological and philosophical currents of thought emanating from Lakoff-inspired approaches to metaphor. Pecheux, Althusser's Ideological State Apparatuses and Interpellation, Foucault's Order of Discourse and Power-Knowledge, Bourdieu's Symbolic Domination and Notion of Habitus and Field, and Gramsci's Hegemony are some other important works in this area.
Aitchison, J. 1987 Words in the Mind: An Introduction to the Mental Lexicon, Oxford: Blacwell.
Althusser, L. 1970 Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, in Essays on Ideology, Verso.
Blommaert, J. (ed) 1999 Language Ideological Debates, Berlin: de Gruyter.
_______ . and C. Bulcaen 2000 Critical Discourse Analysis, Annual Review of Anthropology, 29.
Bourdieu, P. 1991 Language and Symblic Power, Cambridge, UK: Polity.
Caldas-Coulthard, C.R. and M. Coulthard (eds) 1996 Texts and Practices: Readings in Critical Discourse Analysis, London: Routledge.
Cameron, D. et.al. 1992. Researching Language: Issues of Power and Method, London and New York: Routledge.
Chouliaraki, L. and N. Fairclough 1999 Discourse in Late Modernity: Rethinking Critical Discourse Analysis, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Fairclough, N. 1989 Language and Power, London: Longman.
______ 1992 a. Discourse and Social Change, Cambridge, UK : Polity.
________ 1992 b. (ed) Critical Language Awareness, London : Longman.
_________ 1995 Critical Discourse Analysis, London : Longman.
Foucault, M. 1970 The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences, Tr. Alan Sheridan, New York: Pantheon.
________ 1977 The History of Sexuality. Vol I: An Introduction, Tr Robert Hurley, New York : Pantheon.
_________1980 Power/Knowledge: Selected Writings and Other Interviews, New York : Pantheon.
Fowler, R. et.al. (eds) Language and Control, London: Routledge, Kegan Paul.
Gramsci, A. 1971 Selection from the Prison Notebooks, London: Lawrence, Wishart.
Habermas, J.1984 The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. I, Reason and the Rationalization of Society, London: Heinemann.
_______ 1987 The Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. II, Lifeworld and System : A Critique of Functionalist Reason, London : Heinemann.
Hall, S. 1997 Representations: CulturalRepresentations and Signifying Practices, Sage.
Halliday, M.A.K 1978 Language as Social Semiotic, London: Edward Arnold.
_______ 1985 An Introduction to Functional Grammar, London: Edward Arnold.
Hasnain, S. I 1997. Language and Power: Critical Language Study, The Aligarh Journal of English Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2.
_____ 1998. 'Covering' Standard Language: A Discourse Perspective, in R.S.Gupta and K.S. Aggarwal (eds.) Studies in Indian Sociolinguistics, New Delhi: Creative Books.
Hodge, R. and G. Kress 1993 Language as Ideology, London: Routledge.
Kress, G. 1985 Linguistic Processes in Sociocultural Practice, Victoria: Deakin University.
Lakoff. G. and M. Johnson 1980 Metaphors We Live By, Chicago : Chicago University Press.
Lee. D. 1992 Competing Discourses: Perspectives and Language in Ideology, London: Longman.
Pecheux, M. 1975 Language, Semantics and Ideology: Stating the Obvious, Tr. H. Nagpal (1982) London: Macmillan.
Schieffelin, B.B. et. al (eds) Language Ideologies: Practice and Theory, New York : OUP.
Strong, T.B. 1984 Language and nihilism: Neitzsche's critique of epistemology, in M. Shapiro (ed) Language and Politics, New York: New York University Press.
Therborn, G. 1980 Ideology of Power and the Power of Ideology, Verso.
Thompson, J.B. 1984 Studies in the Theory of Ideology, Cambridge, UK: Polity.
Van Dijk T. 1998 Ideology: A Multidisciplinary Approach, London: Sage.
Wodak, R. et. al. (eds) 1999 The Discursive Construction of National Identity, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
This paper is based on the research carried out while I was a Senior Fellow at the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, India during the year 2002-2003.
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S. Imtiaz Hasnain, Ph.D.
Aligarh Muslim University
Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, India
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