Essay 4: Heuristic Analysis

Essay Prompt: Johnstone’s Discourse Analysis presents a heuristic for exploring discourse. These are listed on page 10 and each is developed in a separate chapter. Choose one of these and present your own understanding of it by drawing on our reading, the projects you have done, and our discussions. You should carefully consider the points Johnstone raises, but this question requires your own synthesis of the materials and not a reiteration of the points she makes.


4:             Heuristic: Discourse is shaped by participants, and discourse shapes participants. (Johnstone, 2008, p.10)

This heuristic is so all-encompassing that it’s almost like using a term in its own definition. However, I am especially interested in it because it seems to incorporate H. Paul Grice’s maxims of conversation. The most fascinating part to me about what we’ve learned this quarter about discourse and linguistics is the way we are so blind to the way we operate. Invariably, I have at least one of Grice’s maxims running through my head at any given time that I am talking to someone, and that has been true since long before I even knew what Grice’s maxims were. I know that I change and grow because of my discussions with people, and that was true even before I learned that Barbara Johnstone believed that I can, in turn, change and shape discourse.

“Conversational conventions… allow the various sentence meanings to be sensibly combines into discourse meaning and integrated with context” (Fromkin, Rodman, and Hyams, 2007, p. 205).  If these conversational maxims are the most fundamental level from which we build discourse, they are also the level at which it is broken down. They are not rules, but they do carry a substantial weight, greater than indexicalities, style, behavior, and other tools we use create discourse. The maxims are an explanation of how we understand each other. Without body language, implicature, and harmony, if we upheld the maxims we would still be able to understand each other.

To change or flout Grice’s maxims is to shape our discourse. For instance, the word “dude” violates the maxim of quantity, which means to “say neither more nor less than the discourse requires.” No discourse requires the word “dude,” but by adding it we shaped discourse. Now, the word “dude” has social implications; with different tones it can create solidarity or detachment. It influences what we think about equality and our own identities. We shaped our discourse by breaking down a conversational maxim, but now our discourse is shapes us when we have to pay attention to how we use the word, its context, to whom we are speaking, and our “cool solidarity,” as Kiesling puts it (Johnstone, 2008, p. 286).

Look what’s shaping up now.

Essay 4: Heuristic Analysis

Essay #1: Identity

Essay Prompt: In this program we have been exploring the argument that we construct our identity, in part, through conversation. Our identity is not something that we develop internally, but a construct that we create and maintain moment by moment through everyday talk by drawing on linguistic resources, including silence. Look back at our readings and choose at least three chapters or journal articles that you find particularly useful because of the evidence provided. Then, present an argument for the social construction of identity drawing on the evidence you have chosen.


1:             Being one of the dudes: something humans are striving for on a daily basis, whether we know it or not.  Showing solidarity with people is something that is so inherently important to us that we don’t realize we’re doing it simply by saying the word “dude.”  Studies have shown that students, both male and female, use it for commiseration and confrontation (Kiesling, 2004). Indexing masculinity is very important to a man’s identity, both in what his peers think of him and what he thinks of himself. In fact, Scott Kiesling even coined the term “cool solidarity” to refer to the ways the men use the word “dude” to talk to each other (p.286). Kiesling states, “Dude thus carries indexicalities of both solidarity (camaraderie) and distance (nonintimacy) and can be deployed to create both of these kinds of stance, separately or together” (2004, p. 286).

Barbara Johnstone makes a more general observation that, “People constantly create and renegotiate their relationships with each other in the process of interacting, via discourse moves that make claims to equality, inequality, solidarity, or detachment” (2008, p. 139). In transforming our identity, we are always analyzing how we are similar to and different from others, and using our analyses to shape our discourse. For instance, the more differences we notice about another person from the beginning, the more likely it is that we will form a detached relationship with them through our conversations.

It is these interactions that base further conversation, which is where we build even more ideas about “equality, inequality, solidarity, or detachment.” We find more that we have in common, push boundaries, and make more choices about what to say or not say. Johnstone says, “…however people’s linguistic resources and choices are limited by the ways in which their behavior forms part of the whole ecology of human social life – the fact that participants in discourse are individual human beings means that discourse is fundamentally creative” (2008, p. 157).  Our creativity embodies our identity, and vice versa; even if we limit our creativity by conforming to social norms (like saying “dude”), we are able to make that choice and are therefore using creativity to develop an identity.

Using the word “dude” and repeating other catch phrases, which Ferrara (2004) is quoted by Johnstone as calling “mirroring” and “echoing,” and which is also called backchannelling, “can create rapport, the feeling of harmony among interlocutors which, it can be argued, is one of the primary functions of conversation” (Johnstone, 2008, p. 173). This feeling of harmony is, if not the real goal for any conversation, a genuinely rewarding byproduct of discourse that indicates solidarity. We learn to generate this harmony, thus creating identity.

Essay #1: Identity