Discourse and Society: Analysing Spoken Discourse

Course description

The activity of conversation is central to our lives and to the construction of our social identities.  Yet in formal linguistic studies, casual conversation is often overlooked in favour of written texts or instances of spoken text involving a single speaker.  This course introduces discourse analysis techniques for the analysis of language events involving interaction between two or more speakers.  Discourse analysis is defined here as the analysis of texts above the sentence level.  Drawing on a range of linguistic and semiotic approaches, we will study dialogue as a semantic activity.  We will explore techniques for analyzing language at a variety of linguistic levels, from micro-patterns in the grammar of conversation, to turn-taking, to text type and genre.

The general goals of the course will be:

  • Developing skills in using analytic techniques to describe and interpret dialogue in context.
  • Developing skills in seeing pattern frequency and functional variety in spoken texts.
  • Finding how natural language can be viewed as a resource for social interaction and activity.
  • Designing and producing a research project involving the collection and analysis of conversational data.

There will be a number of in-class and take-home assignments, with a final project worth 40%. Students will be encouraged to collect and analyze their own data.


  • 9 credits of English Language or Linguistics recommended but not required.

Required Reading:

  • Eggins and Slade 2005. Analysing Casual Conversation, Equinox.

Additional readings may be assigned.