To learn about the grammar of discourse, we have to examine texts, the coherent product of the discursive process. A text is any stretch of language that functions as a whole unit, no matter how brief, even something as short as No smoking.
By elevating our perspective to the level of discourse, we will be able to see five main roles of grammar, that is, how grammar structures:
1. Work to organise a text, to make it cohesive. Cohesion – the connection between successive sentences in texts, conversations, etc, in so far as it can be described in terms of specific syntactic unit. The term refers to the grammatical or/and lexical links that mark relationships between clauses or across larger inits of texts.
2. Connect ideas, thereby improving the coherence of a text. Coherence – the term is used to refer to the way in which the content of connected speech or text hang together, or is interpreted as hanging together, as distinct from that of random assemblages of sentences.
3. Contribute texture, making a text whole
4. Work together to create discourse patterns; and
5. Fulfil discourse functions.
Now let's talk about all these roles in detail.
Look at the following seven sentences which come from a paragraph that has been scrambled.
1. When all her friends were applying for college admission, my sister went job-hunting.
1. 2. Thus, her grades weren’t the reason.
2. 3. You know, she may never go to college, and I guess it’s OK.
3. 4. My sister has never wanted to go to college.
4. 5. She did so well that she had many offers.
5. 6. When she was in high school, she was always a good student.
6. 7. She accepted one of them and has been happy ever since.
Does your unscrambled paragraph look loke this?
My sister has never wanted to go to college. Whe she was in high school, she was always a good student. Thus, her grades weren't the reason. When all her friends were applying for college admission, my sister went job-hunting. She did so well that she had many offers. She accepted one of them and has been happy ever since. You know, she may never go to college, and I guess it's OK.
This may have been an easy task but don't let its ease be deceptive.Consider that from the seven sentences in this paragraph there are 5,040 sentence sequences. We were enabled to unscramble the paragraph by the number of linguistic devices, whose purpose is to organise text.
Units of spoken or written language have an organisational structure of their own. Putting the second or the third sentence in this paragraph into initial position would have created an anomaly. We can no more move sentence around in a paragraph ( unless we alter them in some way) than we can move words in a sentence without making other modifications. There is, then, a grammar of discourse.
Let's look at a number of linguistic mechanisms that give cohesion or structure to a text, and to the text in question.
⁃ - reference
⁃ My sister has never wanted to go to college. When she...( She refers to my sister and contributes to the cohesion among sentences)
⁃ - conjunctions
⁃ ...she was always a good student. Thus ( Thus makes explicit the causal relationship between the second and the third sentenses)
...my sister went job-hunting. She did so well...( Did substitutes for job-hunted)
...job-hunting....offers ( We understand offers in the context of job-hunting)
There are some other common mechanisms that were not illustrated in the paragraph, other cohesive devices ( ellypsis, parrallelism, etc)
Grammar structures contribute greatly to the procesability of the text, enabling others to follow or interpret what is being said or written without the speakers's or writer's being overly redundant. However, it's not only cohesion among sentences that a discourse grammar fosters; it is also coherence among ideas.
English has fairly fixed word order in sentences.; still, variations are possible. Here are three of the possible word orderings for a single proposition.
An ambulance came and took Maria to hospital.
Maria was taken to hospital with an upset stomach.
In spite of our efforts to help her at home, Maria had to go to hospital in the end.
Presumably, one of them will fit better with a certain co-text than the others. For instance,
What happened to Maria yesterday?
With this as the opening question in a conversation, we suppose that the passive, the second sentence, fits best in terms of coherence. The cohesion, in its turn, would be improved with the use of a co-referential pronoun she, in subject position.
Now let's move on to texture, a feeling that a text is a coherent whole. One way to create texture is through the use of verb tenses.
Look at the following composition writtenfor pedagogical purpose by an English teacher.
I don’t know what to do with my vacation. It will start in three weeks. I saved enough money for a really nice trip. I already went to Hawaii. It will be too early to go to the mountains. I worked hard all year. I really need a break.
Each individual sentence is well-formed, the use of tenses is temporally consistent and meaningful. However, this composition was created to exemplify a disjointed text. Several factors contribute to its lack of texture, but one of them is that the tense usage violates the maxim that texture is enhanced when we adopt a particular perspective on an event and adhere to that perspective. If the author of this paragraph had stayed within one axis of orientation – say, for example, the present – the discourse would have been less disjointed and more coherent:
I don't know what to do with my vacation. It starts in three weeks. I have saved enough money for a really nice trip. I have already been to Havaii. It is too early to go to the mountains. I have worked hard all year. I really need a break.
We have two more points to cover. Another function of tenses in discourse , is to distinguish the main story line from less important information. It has been observed that, in a discourse narrative, certain sentenses provide background information while others function in the foreground to carry the main plot. These sentences are often distinguished from each other by verb-tenses. For example:
Yesterday I went to the market. It has lots of fruit that I like. I bought several different kinds of apples. I also found that plums were in season, so I bought two pounds of them.
In this short text the foregrounded past narrative is interrupted by the second sentence with a present tense verb. This second sentence provides information – a statement about the market – that is general background information to the story.
Another example of a discourse function is illustrated by the use of the present perfect as a discourse “bridge”:
“Downtown was basically a ghost town” said Rich Bailey, director of the local chamber of commerce’s new bureau. “That was a result of economic changes all across the country. Historically, Chattanooga was a manufacturing town, and many of the manufactures left the city. We had entire blocks with almost empty buildings and parking lots.
And that has changed now. The air is much cleaner, the warehouses have either been torn down or renovated to accommodate the new businesses, and the Tennessee River waterfront that had once been used for slag rehabs and empty coke furnaces is today lush, green and vibrant
The present perfect in this example helps form a bridge from what the way Chattanooga was a few years ago to the way it is today.
And finally, a few words about discourse functions or markers. Let's analyse this conversation:
Jenny: Hello, Ida. It’s Jenny
Ida: Hello, Jenny. How are things? All right?
Jenny: Yes, fine. Yes. I’m ringing up about tomorrow actually. I’ll do coffee tomorrow morning.
Consulting a dictionary tells us that “actually” means fact or reality. But in this extract we see that actually initiates a topic, the reason for a call. Its function is best understood as past of one turn in a series of turns to organise the structure of the conversation. In this example actually plays the role of a discourse marker.
Discourse marker is a word or phrase that organizes language into different parts, for example ‘Well…’ or ‘On the other hand…’
Discourse markers are the word insertions that people engage to provide continuity in conversations
'Discourse marker' are words or expressions which show the connection between what is being said and the wider context. They connect a sentence to what comes before or after, or indicates a speaker's attitude to what he is saying.
1. When all her friends were applying for college admission, my sister went job-hunting.
2. Thus, her grades weren’t the reason.
3. You know, she may never go to college, and I guess it’s OK.
4. My sister has never wanted to go to college.
5. She did so well that she had many offers.
6. When she was in high school, she was always a good student.
7. She accepted one of them and has been happy ever since.