The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject
. (December 2010)
Early use of the term
The ancient Greeks (among others) had much to say on discourse; however, some scholarsLeo Spitzer's Stilstudien (Style Studies) of 1928 the earliest example of discourse analysis (DA). Michel Foucault translated it into French .
However, the term first came into general use following the publication of a series of papers by Zellig Harris from 1952 reporting on work from which he developed transformational grammar in the late 1930s. Formal equivalence relations among the sentences of a coherent discourse are made explicit by using sentence transformations to put the text in a canonical form. Words and sentences with equivalent information then appear in the same column of an array. This work progressed over the next four decades (see references) into a science of sublanguage analysis (Kittredge & Lehrberger 1982), culminating in a demonstration of the informational structures in texts of a sublanguage of science, that of Immunology, (Harris et al. 1989) and a fully articulated theory of linguistic informational content (Harris 1991). During this time, however, most linguists ignored such developments in favor of a succession of elaborate theories of sentence-level syntax and semantics.
In January 1953, a linguist working for the American Bible Society,
James A. Lauriault/Loriot, needed to find answers to some fundamental errors in translating Quechua, in the Cuzco area of Peru. Following Harris's 1952 publications, he worked over the meaning and placement of each word in a collection of Quechua legends with a native speaker of Quechua and was able to formulate discourse rules that transcended the simple sentence structure. He then applied the process to Shipibo, another language of Eastern Peru. He taught the theory at the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Norman, Oklahoma, in the summers of 1956 and 1957 and entered the University of Pennsylvania to study with Harris in the interim year. He tried to publish a paper Shipibo Paragraph Structure, but it was delayed until 1970 (Loriot & Hollenbach 1970). In the meantime, Kenneth Lee Pike, a professor at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, taught the theory, and one of his students, Robert E. Longacre developed it in his writings.
Harris's methodology disclosing the correlation of form with meaning was developed into a system for the computer-aided analysis of natural language by a team led by Naomi Sager at Medical Language Processor is publicly available on SourceForge.
In the humanities
In the late 1960s and 1970s, and without reference to this prior work, a variety of other approaches to a new cross-discipline of DA began to develop in most of the humanities and social sciences concurrently with, and related to, other disciplines, such as semiotics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, and pragmatics. Many of these approaches, especially those influenced by the social sciences, favor a more dynamic study of oral talk-in-interaction. An example is "conversational analysis", which was influenced by the Sociologist Harold Garfinkel, the founder of Ethnomethodology.
In Europe, Michel Foucault became one of the key theorists of the subject, especially of discourse, and wrote The Archaeology of Knowledge. In this context, the term 'discourse' no longer refers to formal linguistic aspects, but to institutionalized patterns of knowledge that become manifest in disciplinary structures and operate by the connection of knowledge and power. Since the 1970s, Foucault's works have had an increasing impact especially on discourse analysis in the social sciences. Thus, in modern European social sciences, one can find a wide range of different approaches working with Foucault's definition of discourse and his theoretical concepts. Apart from the original context in France, there is, at least since 2005, a broad discussion on socio-scientific discourse analysis in Germany. Here, for example, the sociologist
Reiner Keller developed his widely recognized 'Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse (SKAD)'. Following the sociology of knowledge by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, Keller argues, that our sense of reality in everyday life and thus the meaning of every object, actions and events are the product of a permanent, routinized interaction. In this context, SKAD has been developed as a scientific perspective that is able to understand the processes of 'The Social Construction of Reality' on all levels of social life by combining Michel Foucault's theories of discourse and power with the theory of knowledge by Berger/Luckmann. Whereas the latter primarily focus on the constitution and stabilisation of knowledge on the level of interaction, Foucault's perspective concentrates on institutional contexts of the production and integration of knowledge, where the subject mainly appears to be determined by knowledge and power. Therefore, the 'Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse' can also be seen as an approach to deal with the vividly discussed
micro–macro problem in sociology.