Discourse analysis and sociolinguistics – An intricate relationship

Martin Reisigl

Department of Linguistics, University of Vienna, Austria


The sub-disciplinary status of discourse analysis within linguistics is less clear than it may appear. This will be demonstrated and discussed in my paper, looking at the relationship between discourse analysis and sociolinguistics. My contrastive overview will take into account the history of the two linguistic “branches” developed out of differing scientific traditions in various areas of the world, especially in Europe and the United States. A selective synopsis of relevant linguistic handbooks, textbooks and specialised literature will be given that outcrops a variety of mutual relationships of inclusion, subordination and intersection with respect to the connection of discourse analysis to sociolinguistics. Some of these inner-linguistic localisations are performed as one-sided subsumptions from a mono-centric disciplinary perspective that lacks solid acquaintance with the subsumed “branch” or “subbranch”. Nevertheless, such a problematic positioning has a great influence on future generations of linguists, if presented in well-known publishing media by recognised authorities. Young linguists may run the risk of accepting as ascertained knowledge what has sometimes been uttered ad hoc in the hustle and bustle of academic publication endeavours.

All in all, the relationship between discourse analysis and sociolinguistics – being far from clarification – is historically dynamic, science culture-dependent and mutually fecundating. This will, among other things, be explicated in the paper by a look at the theoretical and methodical role of sociolinguistic concepts or variables in discourse analysis on the one side, and by an examination of the significance of discourse-related concepts and methods in sociolinguistics on the other side. Within this context, it will be most insightful to focus on “context” and its operational breakdown into various macro-, meso- and micro-dimensions, particularly taking into consideration developments in “interactional” or “interpretative sociolinguistics”, “discourse sociolinguistics”, “critical sociolinguistics” and “critical discourse analysis”.

My discussion of various answers to the question of the inner-linguistic relationship between sociolinguistics and discourse analysis will be concluded by a heuristic proposal that relies on Wittgenstein’s idea of “family resemblance”.

Session: Paper session
Various Topics
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 13