Meet 2

Speech acts and discourse structures

By Dr. Bejo Sutrisno, M.Pd.

Recognize the use of speech act and discourse structures to obtain theoretical knowledge based on the understanding of spoken discourse models

Speech acts and discourse structures

  • Form and function have to be separated to understand what is happening in discourse.
  • Discourses have beginnings, middles and ends.
  • How is it, for example, that we feel that we are coming in in the middle of this conversation and leaving it before it has ended?

Extract 1.5

  A: Well, try this spray, what I got, this is the biggest they come.
  B: Oh.. .
  A: … tittle make-up capsule.
  B: Oh, right, it’s like these inhalers, isn’t it? ,
  A: And I, I’ve found  that not so bad since I’ve been using it, and it doesn’t make you so grumpy.
  B: This is up your nose?
  A: Mm.
  B: Oh, wow! It looks a bit sort of violent, doesn’t it? It works well, doesn’t it?

  • The main problem with making a neat analysis of extract (1.5) is that it is clearly the ‘middle’ of something, which makes some features difficult to interpret.
  • For instance:

       Why does A say wellat the beginning of his/her turn?

       What are these inhalers?

  • Are they inhalers on the table in front of the speakers, or ones we all know about in the shops?
  • Why does A change from talking about ‘this spray to that in a short space of the dialogue?
  • What clues are there in the following extract which suggest that we are coming in in the middle of something?
  • What other problems are there in interpreting individual words?

  A: I mean, I don’t like this new emblem at all.
  B: The logo.
  A: Yeah, the castle on the Trent, it’s horrible.
  C: Did you get a chance to talk to him?
  A: Yeah.
  C: How does he seem?

The Scope of Discourse Analysis

  • Discourse analysis is not only concerned with the description and analysis of spoken interaction but also in written and printed words:

  – newspaper articles,   

  – stories,  

  – instructions,  

  – comics,   

  – leaflets pushed through the door, 

  –   letters,

  –  recipes,

  –  notices,

  –  billboards,

  – and so on.

Spoken discourse: models of analysis

  • Extract 1.6
    (T= teacher, P = any pupil who speaks)
    T: Now then . ..I’ve got some things here, too. Hands up. What’s that, what is it?
    P: Saw.
    T: It’s a saw, yes this is a saw. What do we do with a saw?
    P: Cut wood.
    T: Yes. You’re shouting out though. What do we do with a saw? Marvelette.
    P: Cut wood.
    T: We cut wood. And, erm, what do we do with a hacksaw, this hacksaw?
    P: Cut trees.
    T: Do we cut trees with this?
    P: No. No.
    T: Hands up. What do we do with this?
    P: Cut wood.
    T: Do we cut wood with this?
    P: No.
    T: What do we do with that then?
    P: Cut wood.
    T: We cut wood with that. What do we do with that?
    P: Sir.
    T: Cleveland.
    P: Metal.
    T: We cut metal. Yes we cut metal. And, er, I’ve got this here. What’s that? Trevor.
    P: An axe.
    T: It’s an axe yes. What do I cut with the axe?
    P: Wood, wood.
    T: Yes I cut wood with the axe. Right …Now then, I’ve got some more things here . . .(etc.)

– ‘Now then . ..‘

 – ‘Right. . .Now then‘

 – ‘right’, ….’

 -‘well now’ or

 – ‘okay’

  1. The question-answer sequence between the teacher and pupils have  internal structure with  a string of language forms to which we can give individual function or speech-act labels.

  2. The pattern:

   (1) the teacher asks something (‘What’s that?’),

   (2) a pupil answers (‘An axe’) and

   (3) the teacher acknowledges the answer and comments on it (‘It’s an axe, yes’).

  • The pattern of (I), (2) and (3) is then repeated. So we could label the pattern in the following way:

      1) Ask  T

     2) Answer   P

     3) Comment  T

The regular sequence of the extract is /TPT/-/TPT/-/TPT/-/TPT/. Look at the extract (1.7).

Extract 1.7

  T:  Now then …I’ve got some things here, too. Hands up.     What’s  that, what is it? /
  P: Saw. /

  T: It’s a saw,  yes this is a saw. // What do we do with a   saw?/

  P: Cut wood. /

  T: Yes. You’re shouting out  though. / What do we do with   a saw?   Marvelette. /

  P: Cut wood. /
  T:  We cut wood./ /And, erm, what do we do with …etc.

  • We can now isolate a typical segment between double slashes (//) and use it as a base unit in our description:

  Extract 1.8

  T: //What do we do with a saw? Marvelette. /
  P: Cut wood. /
  T: We cut wood. //

Sinclair and Coulthard call this unit an exchange.

  • This particular exchange consists of a question, an answer and a comment, and so it is a three-part exchange.
  • Each of the parts are given the name move .
  • Here are some other examples of exchanges, each with three moves:

 Extract 1.9   

  A: What time is it?
  B: Six thirty.
  A: Thanks.

  Extract 1.10 

  A: Tim’s coming tomorrow.
  B: Oh yeah.
  A: Yes.

  Extract 1.11 

  A: Here, hold this.
  B: (takes the box)
  A: Thanks.

  • Each of these exchanges consists of three moves, but it is only in:

  (1) that the first move (‘What time is it?’) seems to   be  functioning as a question.

  (2) heard as giving information, and

  (3) as a command.

  • Equally, the second moves seem to have the function, respectively, of:

  (1) an answer,

  (2) an acknowledgement and

  (3) a non-verbal response (taking the box).

  • The third moves are in all three exchanges functioning as feedback on the second move:

  (1) to be polite and say thanks,

  (2) to confirm the information and

  (3) to say thanks again.

  • In order to capture the similarity of the pattern in each case, Sinclair and Coulthard (1975: 26-7 ) call:

  – the first move in each exchange an opening move,

  – the second an answering move and

  – the third a follow-up move.

  • Sinclair and Brazil (1982:49) prefer to talk of initiation, response and follow-up. The three moves will be called initiation, response and follow-up.

  • Every exchange has to be initiated, whether with a statement, a question or a command; equally naturally, someone responds, whether in words or action.

Read the unorganized conversation.

  1. Can you put the moves of this discourse into an order that produces a
    coherent conversation?
  2. The conversation takes place at a travel agent’s.
  3. What clues do you use to establish the correct order?
  4. Are there any moves that are easier to place than others; and if so, why?

‘You haven’t no, no.’
‘No . Littlewoods is it!’
‘I’m awfully sorry, we haven’t .. .urn I don’t know where you can
try for Bath actually.’
‘Can I help you?’
‘Okay thanks.’
‘Yeah they’re inside there now.’
‘Urn have you by any chance got anything on Bath!’
‘Urn I don’t really know …you could try perhaps Pickfords in
Littlewoods, they might be able to help you.’

Speech and Discourse Structure


McCarthy, M. (2000). Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers, Cambridge: University Press.
Penny, W. K. (2002). Form and Function of Linguistic Items in Discourse: Analysis of a Spoken Text.
Schiffrin, D., Tannen, D. & Hamilton, H.E. (2001). The Handbook of discourse analysis. UK: Blackwell Publisher.

Youtube English Corner Banjarmasin (2020). Introduction to Discourse Analysis .