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Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405168908.2010.x


In its broadest, least technical sense, “discourse” means simply “talk” or “conversation,” sometimes with the hint of a didactic purpose (thus “sermon,” “treatise,” or “lengthy address to some particular topic”). This latter development seems rather at odds with the word's etymology, going back to the Latin verb discurrere , “to run about,” “range widely,” “wander off course,” etc. And indeed there is something of the same ambiguity – or tendency to pull in opposite directions – when the word is taken up (as it has been often of late) into the usage of various specialized disciplines. I shall therefore look at some of the issues it raises for philosophy, linguistics, and the human sciences in general. The linguist Emile B enveniste was among the most influential thinkers in this field. According to him, “discourse” has to do with those aspects of language that can only be interpreted with reference to the speaker, to his or her spatiotemporal location, or to other such variables which serve to specify the localized context of utterance. It thus lays claim to a distinctive and well-defined area of study, one that includes the personal pronouns (especially “I” and “you”), D eictics of place (“here,” “there,” etc.) and temporal markers (“now,” “today,” “next week,”) in the absence of which the utterance in question would lack determinate sense. Structural linguistics – following ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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