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Paul Cobley


As a common term in English, discourse means any extended verbal communication, such as Jesus's discourse with the people (John 6: 22–71) or, “The Disinherited Knight then addressed his discourse to Baldwin” (Scott, Ivanhoe ). Discourse is lengthy but targeted speech between individuals or between an individual and a group. As a theoretical term, discourse gained in importance during the twentieth century, both in the relatively new discipline of →  linguistics and in the newer discipline of communication study (→  Communication as a Field and Discipline ), taking on two distinct meanings. First, it refers to stretches of communication beyond the small units that are examined with the traditional methods of linguistic analysis. Second, discourse directs attention to the social origins and consequences of communications (→  Communication: Definitions and Concepts ). Discourse has a Latin root in discurrere , which itself is related to currere (“to run”). French derives the terms discourir and cours from these roots; English similarly derives “discursive,” “excursion,” “current,” and “courier.” The core meaning is movement of one sort or another, or running around. This idea is embodied in current uses of “discourse” to refer to communication as social interchange, and was also reflected in older occurrences of the term. Famously, Descartes's Discourse on method (1637) ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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