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English 121: Guide

Modules for each section of English 121

Goals for Module 4

MODULE 4

In this LibGuide you will learn about Communities and what makes them Discourse Communities. Take your time with the terminology, especially that of six characteristics of Discourse Communities, and make sure to view all the videos and visuals to help you become more confident with that terminology. Knowing the ways in which groups communicate and accomplish goals will ultimately make you are stronger communicator yourself, and therefore a stronger writer, in any situation, because you will know what it takes to make appropriate adjustments to your communication when writing within a specific discourse community.

Six Characteristics of Discourse Community

Topic 1 - Discourse

Discourse

DEFINITION

Discourse is exchanging ideas through writing, speech, text, discussing and debating the topic extensively. It is an ongoing conversation about a subject that is shared among a group of people, a community. Because discourse is a debate, not all of the speech or text qualifies as a discourse. For example, when you greet someone with a “Hi,” and that someone replies with, “Hello,” that does not count as discourse because it is not an extensive conversation, an ongoing debate about a given topic.

EXAMPLE OF DISCOURSE

Discourse is usually born out of social, historical events, especially that such events frequently confront the values and beliefs within a society at the time. As those values and beliefs get debated in the context of the event that took place, the discourse develops, shaping the texts and communication born from it. For example, the murder of George Floyd sparked nation-wide protests against racial injustice, bringing to the surface conflicting values of our society on this subject. The texts born out of that historical event, some of them as short as the three-word long “Black Lives Matter,” are feeding into the discourse, which now spread world-wide, making the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, known to masses of people who would have never used these names, never injected themselves into the debate, if it were not for the events and for the discourse that began with them.

Topic 2 - Community

Community

DEFINITION

Community is a network, a group of people who share common interests, values, beliefs, whose shared language emerges from how they communicate with one another. Though not always, members of a community reside in close proximity to one another.

Any one individual can belong to a number of different communities, characterized by ethnicity, age, gender, profession, and these communities may overlap to a certain extent. In a span of one day, an individual moves between multiple communities and is affected by them. To better envision this transition between communities, think of how and where you began and ended your day. Did you drive, walk to class? Did you have company as you made it to class? Once in class, whom did you interact with: your advisor, professors, friends, administrators? After class, did you go to work, socialize after work with your co-workers? Before heading home, did you stop at a grocery store to pick up essentials for your next day? Once home, did you chat with a roommate, texted a friend? All the individuals you encountered within your day belong to various communities, and within one day, you successfully navigated all these communities. 

EXAMPLES OF COMMUNITIES

Workplaces

Schools

Neighborhoods

Topic 3 - Discourse Community

Discourse Community

DEFINITION

Discourse Community is a combination of the term discourse and the term community. So, discourse community is a group of people communicating about a topic that is relevant to them – that’s the discourse part of a discourse community. The members of a discourse community use a common language to connect with one another, to interact. But not every community is a discourse community, and in order to qualify as a discourse community a group must exhibit six characteristics, proposed by the linguist, analyst of written communication, John Swales.

SIX CHARACTERISTICS OF DISCOURSE COMMUNITY

  1. Agreed upon set of common goals
  2. Mechanisms of intercommunication
  3. Participatory mechanisms
  4. Genre
  5. Lexis
  6. Threshold level of members with suitable degree of knowledge or expertise

Discourse communities are groups engaged in discourse, so in order for their members to function in a discourse community, they must understand what type of language is used within it, how that language is used, what the community’s interests are, what knowledge or experience its members have. Armed with such information, the members can confidently use the language that fits the discourse community, adjust the communication to be understood by its members, and this, in turn, makes them better, stronger, more effective writers, making informed decisions about all aspects of their communication, written or spoken.