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Discourse Analysis Project

Topic: Discourse analysis of a conversation.

This assignment requires you to complete four basic tasks:
1. Record or find a conversation or discussion between at least two people.
2. Transcribe a two-minute section of the conversation as a sample for analysis.
3. Develop an analysis of the conversation as communicative event, using the terms
of Hymes's SPEAKING model.
4. Revise your paper and submit a typed report with at least three pages of analysis and one
single-spaced page of transcription along with your research recording.
Subject: The discourse you record may be a conversation among friends, between a teacher and a
student, or between you and a relative. You should inform the participants of your intentions. The
recording may also be a an interview on television or the radio that you record to use as a research
sample. Any conversation has all kinds of interesting aspects, but possibly selecting an especially
interesting exchange or event would help you work more productively on this assignment.
Goals: In your writing you should focus on the forms, functions, rules, and strategies of discourse
in a communication setting. It will also give you practice in lingustic academic writing.
Deadline: Thursday, 17 December.
Here are a number of speech events that might work as subjects for this assignment: a discussiontype class, a television interview, the give and take of political debaters, the arguing on a television
talk show or panel discussion, conversation in a dorm room, a radio preacher's performance, a
career interview at the Peer Career Center, a "bull session" in a "watering hole," "troubles talk"
among friends (Thomas & Tchudi 74).
One goal is to make a tape of the event so you can use it as a sample for analysis.
Another goal is to transcribe one section of the tape in a straightforward manner. Discourse
analysts use all kinds of conventions to signal intonation changes and other characteristics of
speech, but for the purpose of this assignment, we'll make a plain transcription without eye dialect
attempts to show pronunciation and the more complicated typography of high level discourse
analysis. These special characteristics are, however, good points to discuss in your analysis of the
speech event.
The Hymes SPEAKING model can help you uncover important aspects of the discourse as a
speech event, but your paper should not stricly follow these categories in your developing an
effective written organization. Use Hymes's categories to get a start writing down ideas and
evidence, but then revise this material into an organized paper with an introduction, a series of
developed and connected paragraphs, and a conclusion.
Consider what speakers are doing to one another in the discourse. Consider what preconditions and
presuppositions they make in the event.

This assignment is due Thursday, 17 December. Please send the paper and the recording via e-mail
and hand in the printed version in class.

Dell Hymes's SPEAKING Model

Sociolinguist Dell Hymes developed the following model to promote the analysis of discourse as a
series of speech events and speech acts within a cultural context. It uses the first letters of terms for
speech components; the categories are so productive and powerful in analysis that you can use this
model to analyze many different kinds of discourse. Mr. McGowan patricularly enjoys applying
this model to storytelling.
Setting and Scene
"Setting refers to the time and place of a speech act and, in general, to the physical
circumstances" (Hymes 55).The living room in the grandparents' home might be a setting
for a family story.
Scene is the "psychological setting" or "cultural definition" of a scene, including
characteristics such as range of formality and sense of play or seriousness (Hymes 55-56).
The family story may be told at a reunion celebrating the grandparents' anniversary. At
times, the family would be festive and playful; at other times, serious and commemorative.
Speaker and audience. Linguists will make distinctions within these categories; for
example, the audience can be distinguished as addressees and other hearers (Hymes 54 &
56). At the family reunion, an aunt might tell a story to the young female relatives, but
males, although not addressed, might also hear the narrative.
Purposes, goals, and outcomes (Hymes 56-57). The aunt may tell a story about the
grandmother to entertain the audience, teach the young women, and honor the
Act Sequence
Form and order of the event. The aunt's story might begin as a response to a toast to the
grandmother. The story's plot and development would have a sequence structured by the
aunt. Possibly there would be a collaborative interruption during the telling. Finally, the
group might applaud the tale and move onto another subject or activity.
Cues that establish the "tone, manner, or spirit" of the speech act (Hymes 57). The aunt
might imitate the grandmother's voice and gestures in a playful way, or she might address
the group in a serious voice emphasing the sincerity and respect of the praise the story
Forms and styles of speech (Hymes 58-60). The aunt might speak in a casual register with
many dialect features or might use a more formal register and careful grammatical
"standard" forms.
Social rules governing the event and the participants' actions and reaction. In a playful
story by the aunt, the norms might allow many audience interruptions and collaboration, or

possibly those interruptions might be limited to participation by older females. A serious,

formal story by the aunt might call for attention to her and no interruptions as norms.
The kind of speech act or event; for our course, the kind of story. The aunt might tell a
character anecdote about the grandmother for entertainment, but an exemplum as moral
instruction. Different disciplines develop terms for kinds of speech acts, and speech
communities sometimes have their own terms for types.
These terms can be applied to many kinds of discourse. Sometimes in a written discussion you
might emphasize only two or three of the letters of the mnemonic. It provides a structure for you to
perceive components.
Work Cited
Hymes, Dell. Foundations of Sociolinguistics: An Ethnographic Approach. Philadelphia: U of
Pennsylvania P, 1974.