This material is Copyright 1995 by Brett Dellinger
Critical Discourse Analysis
For a more extensive discussion of CDA, visit CNNCRITICAL.tripod.com
A structuralist approach to media studies has the advantage of opening up many new areas for analysis and criticism. However, questions about structuralist assumptions and methods still remain, and we are seriously lacking in satisfactory answers, many of which remain beyond the scope of this investigation. But if we persist in the conviction that audiences should be granted the role of subject, that is, a role of "active agent" in television production, one capable of constructing meanings from the language of the media, then it is also necessary to continue under the assumption that language and meaning are in some way social constructs. Although much of the methodology and research goals used in the study of language have resisted this trend, today "society" and "criticism" have become key words in various new approaches to language study and its application to the analysis of media as discourse. Ruth Wodak, writing in Language, Power and Ideology, defines her field, which she calls "critical linguistics," as "an interdisciplinary approach to language study with a critical point of view" for the purpose of studying "language behavior in natural speech situations of social relevance." Wodak also stresses the importance of "diverse theoretical and methodological concepts" and suggests that these can also be used for "analyzing issues of social relevance," while attempting to expose "inequality and injustice." Wodak underscores and encourages "the use of multiple methods" in language research while emphasizing the importance of recognizing the "historical and social aspects." Emphasis on both the structure and the social context of media texts can provide a solution which enables the media critic to "denaturalize," or expose the "taken-for-grantedness" of ideological messages as they appear in isolated speech and, when combined with newer ethnographic studies and newer methods of discourse analysis, create a broader common ground between structuralists and and those who see the media as manipulators. The critical use of discourse analysis (CDA) in applied linguistics is leading to the development of a different approach to understanding media messages. Robert Kaplan expressed some of these new concepts when he wrote: "The text, whether written or oral, is a multidimensional structure," and "any text is layered, like a sheet of thick plywood consisting of many thin sheets lying at different angles to each other." The basics of a text consist of syntax and lexicon; its grammar, morphology, phonology, and semantics. However, "The understanding... of grammar and lexicon does not constitute the understanding...of text." "Rhetoric intent...," says Kaplan, "coherence and the world view that author and receptor bring to the text are essential." The comprehension of meaning ...lies not in the text itself, but in the complex interaction between the author's intent and his/her performative ability to encode that intent, and the receptor's intent and his/her performative ability not only to decode the author's intent but to mesh his/her own intent with the author's. Critical discourse analysis has made the study of language into an interdisciplinary tool and can be used by scholars with various backgrounds, including media criticism. Most significantly, it offers the opportunity to adopt a social perspective in the cross-cultural study of media texts. As Gunter Kress points out, CDA has an "overtly political agenda," which "serves to set CDA off...from other kinds of discourse analysis" and text linguistics, "as well as pragmatics and sociolinguistics." While most forms of discourse analysis "aim to provide a better understanding of socio-cultural aspects of texts," CDA "aims to provide accounts of the production, internal structure, and overall...
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