The Meaning of a Discourse Community

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Communication is how we as humans teach, learn and develop our world. With this communication, we have been able to develop our world through invention and advances in technology. The way in which we communicate has changed drastically with modern forms of communication being electronically, such as through use of the Internet. However, we must wonder if this new platform for communication benefited or impaired our ability to communicate?

In an effort to understand this we must be able to assess the issues surrounding modern communication methods, both dissecting and comparing oral, written and electronic communication. An extensive view in relation to the main concepts will be portrayed through use of example’s in order to test and understand theory of our production and reception of communication.

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Goody and Watt first gave rise to the idea of direct semantic ratification. Semantic ratification is the understanding of particular utterances such as written utterances and therefore more specifically direct semantic ratification involves focus on visual and verbal signals such as body language and voice’s to interpret utterances in oral communication but to a less significant degree within electronic communication. In the classical model of communication derived from Shannon’s information theory that a communication channel forms an intrinsic part of the model that implies the absence of direct semantic ratification in that the information source and destination are remote from each other in an information channel. However, this model did not apply well to direct spoken communication and therefore suggests Direct semantic ratification occurs with spoken communication.

In oral discourse, the understanding of words from dictionary definitions cannot be learned, you either understand or don’t and this can often lead to a superior conversationalist within the conversation. For example, Steven Crowder is a political commentator and comedian you-tuber that operates a show to allow any member of the public to fight his chosen case – however as he is a great conversationalist and knowledgeable politician so he always appears the superior by using and understanding complex words to win the debate. Another feature of direct semantic ratification is facial and bodily expression, if someone is laughing at a joke you’re telling; you automatically associate their laugh with the joke, implying that the joke was humorous and amusing. This feature is close to non-existent in written communication but becomes more active in electronic communication, however not to the extent of oral language. Questioning the producer about an utterance also occurs in oral communication, this is why students favour interactive lectures where they are able to ask questions, as they are more monologic rather than dialogic. Dialogic communication is almost completely absent in written communication; it is delayed dialogic character as it can sometimes take months or years for a feedback on their writings. A famous example of this is Shakespear, many of his famous material became globally recognised long after his death as it took time for it to circulate. In electronic communication as we understand there is delayed dialogic character, this can also bring rise to individuals regretting the production of an utterance on the internet as it may have been interpreted badly which wasn’t the intent due to the lack of bodily signals – this is otherwise known as clickers remorse. In the covid-19 pandemic of 2020 as a precaution Iceland the supermarket had put out a post saying ‘If NHS workers touch something they can’t put them back’ as shown in the image below. This created outrage amongst the public and since Iceland have reached out to say ‘’This was an error and should not have been posted on our website. We sincerely apologise for the offence this has clearly caused, and have immediately withdrawn this guidance. We are deeply grateful to the NHS and all key workers for everything they are doing to keep the country running.’ 

With electronic communication, we understand that the ability of instant messaging such as Facebook messenger allow communication at nearly the same rate as oral communication, however, its not just about the production of utterances, it doesn’t contain some key features of direct semantic ratification such as being able to use facial expression and body language. As humans we use our body to speak and also unconsciously use non-verbal cues in our interpretation of these utterances. Although, there are attempts to reciprocate for bodily presence in electronic communication and improve direct semantic ratification through Emoticons. These have advanced over time to allow users to express themselves as much as possible and can reduce allot of unwanted text. For example, if in a conversation with someone on Instagram a simple ‘yes’ answer may come across as too simple and to some show a lack of interest, however with use of a smiling face in reaction to the comment in combination with the yes will appear more interested.

Autoglottic means language without a voice and this describes written language; ‘a form of unsponsored language which is not limited to particular categories of speech act or verbal practice’ (Harris, 1989) Direct semantic ratification is complimented by Autoglottic space. This is shown as online a producer is separated from their utterance and without evidence there is no way for the receiver to understand who the producer or author of that piece of text is. In paper written language, handwriting style, recurring spelling mistakes and personal signatures are a way for receivers to identify the producer without evidence. However, this is greatly deteriorated in electronic communication, as what the receiver is provided with is usually all they can use to assume who the user is. Illustrated by Peter Steiner in 1993 through the famous picture shown below was captioned ‘On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog’ which was used to capture the severity of Internet anonymity. It also illustrates how immediate direct semantic ratification is used between the dogs but the dog using the keyboard to the receiver yields delayed dialogic character. On the Internet, there is a show called catching predators, which portrays themselves as under-age girls to lure in and catch potential paedophiles. This is possible because the utterances from the profile are autoglottic and the receiver isn’t able to know for certain it isn’t actually a young girl. This example shows to the extent a user of the Internet can keep anonymous and their portrayal through utterances and real profile can be unrecognised.

It is important to now address labor in the production, transmission, reproduction and interpretation of communication. Minimal labor is required in the production of utterances in oral communication; human nature coincides with trying to prevent or break long silences as the conversation may become uncomfortable, even simple commonly used everyday utterances such as, “so, how was your day?” Oral communication doesn’t require much labor in the sense of physical and intellectual labor, at most it is producing and interpreting both interpreting body language and understanding words. Although, it is understandable that oral communication inclusive of language barriers may be anomalous, in that it requires allot more labor to interpret and may not result conclusively. In contrast to oral communication, written communication requires larger amounts of higher amounts of physical and intellectual labor as this production requires more deliberation so the producer doesn’t experience regret. In production of utterances its clear you require less physical and intellectual labor in comparison to written communication, for example driving whilst having an oral conversation with friends is extensively easier than writing to friends whilst driving. With written communication, individuals have more time to consider what to write in comparison to oral communication, which gives the opportunity to be more mindful of the utterance used in that it’s appropriate and is used tastefully so the receiver can interpret it correctly. Time for thought, can most of the time, filter out inappropriate utterances as it gives time for the producer to reconsider of its implications. In electronic communication we can see an imbalance occur, as physical labor is low in production of an utterance through electronic keyboards such as bringing use of spell-checkers. However, the intellectual labor is still heavy and enforces deliberation about the content of the utterance but as there is less time for deliberation as the physical labor is vastly reduced, this brings rise to what many people experience and is commonly known as ‘clicker’s remorse’, for example email’s sent to a colleague in work that were sent in anger and later regretted as they were inappropriate. Although, in favour of written and electronic communication labor is compensated in interpretation as the user is able to read over or re-interpret the utterance long after production. Formality in electronic communication is similar with oral language especially in social networking sites, for instance in oral language there is incompleteness in that you might not even know how to spell a word but know its meaning or how to use it and this regularly applies in social networking people use synonyms in common conversation with friends where as producing a formal utterance such as to a colleague or client if they are in a profession, would require much more intellect. An example of this from ordinary discourse is using Queen’s university email to contact a lecturer, in this message it would be inclusive of ‘Dear’ and ‘From’ to appear as formal aswell as correct grammar and punctuality. In contrast, when contacting a fellow student the content would be significantly less formal, especially if well acquainted, as generally the emails are less important. There are many people that have similar comparisons, for example many people use informal conversation with friends such as referring to them as ‘mate’ because their language is under mutual understanding, where as if contacting an individual about a job would try to appear as formal using ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’ to be respectful as well as other grammar to lessen interpretation.

The community of which communication takes place must be examined, meaning political and discourse communities. A Political community is a group of like-minded people who share common political goals and values such as social justice, lowering taxes, improving educational policy, etc. In 1981 Aristotle told “While all partnerships aim at some good the partnership that is the most supreme of all includes all the others does so most of all, and aims at the most supreme of all goods; and this is the partnership entitled the state, the political association” (Aristotle, 1981); giving an insight to what would be later defined as a political community. An example of a political community is personally, being a member of the United Kingdom and will therefore personally be governed by its jurisdiction. However, it is important to highlight that you can also belong to another political community and similarly be governed by its internal jurisdiction. Aristotle told a ‘man is a political animal’ often misunderstood to mean men or women participate in political assemblies like the House of Commons or local assembly under representable than direct democracy. However, it really implies that man is an animal only becoming human in political association in the political state or in the city-state as if voluntarily citiless you are looked upon as a god, monster or a low level citizen. Under Aristotle’s scheme a political and discourse community come into existence at the same time.

A discourse community is a group of people who share a set of discourses, understood as basic values and assumptions, and ways of communicating about those goals (Discourse community, 2020) – these include oral, written or electronic communication, or other means. At their origin these communities can be coterminous with each other, particularly discourse communities across political boundaries.. Both communities have different ways of looking at a single community. Over time they can diverge, in particular discourse can travel between political communities, then issues arise for the acceptability of discourse in one political community of jurisdiction then lack of acceptability in another. Therefore, a Political community is also necessarily a discourse community as they are engaged in communication with each other. However, in history these would have always been considered as one because there was generally no discourse either way from that political community where other legislations were different. The Amish community is an example of this by intentionally segregating themselves from other communities as a part of their faith as they reject the advancements in technology such as cars and too much electricity, and legislations or common lifestyles that are in place such as (Amish life in the modern world, 2020).

In modern society people belong to different communities with different strength such as your household, your family or jurisdiction and unconsciously we manage discourse across political communities using different forms of discourse appropriate to that particular audience or political community where addressing we may use different forms of media. For example, in interplaying between my political community communication was used in voting through paper written communication on certain issues where as being a member of staff within Iceland using an online form the ability of communication was met electronically to give personal interpretation or thoughts of certain issues, even less formal electronic communication can be used in discourse communities for example another example from personal experience is being a member of a discourse community page on Instagram for football trainers to discuss thoughts on different elements of football training and what are improvements.

In having these different inputs it’s important to identify that in history, primitive democracy widely didn’t involve low citizens of society, or minority groups, different races or even women in a lot of communities that didn’t have technological supports and even in today’s society discrepancies or discrimination can be seen, such as in the United kingdom there is a political movement for people under 18 to be given the right to vote, as if you have to pay taxes and can have a family at 16, then surely you should be able to vote! In the past, disputes were resolved by public debate, and if you didn’t agree with them you were punished by exile. In modern society this can still be seen in some communities, in relating back to the Amish community example they can choose at around 14-16 if they wish to be baptised in the Amish church or are leave the community altogether.

As we know political and discourse communities are coterminous with each other and members of a particular community can consult public utterances from other political communities. In the past might have had to post letter and could make restrictions on certain forms of communication at political boundaries even though these restrictions were difficult to enforce. With electronic communication discourse can be transmitted across boundaries more easily than it could be in the past, for example we can send a message from all around the world, such as Amerian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan wazone able to contact their families or from ordinal discourse being able to contact allot of my family that emigrated to Australia through electronic communication of social networking sites like Facebook which doesn’t require nearly as much physical labor as it would have taken in the past by writing letters. On the basis of this understanding there must be greater deliberation in the production of utterances from a political community due to the ease in transmitting electronic communication and impossible task of controlling electronic communication without human observers looking at instances of electronic communication, which then becomes a labor extensive and an expensive task. However, its important to address have still retained territoriality of jurisdiction, what counts as an acceptable utterance depends on the jurisdiction of which it is uttered. These are issues that still need resolution; particular feature attention to is what counts as uttering an utterance is intentional human intervention in the utterance than just automatically passing on a message. 

A remark from Johnson to Boswell, ‘I could now tell why I should not write; for who would write to men who publish the letters of their friends, without their leave?‘ helps us understand that every communication has an intended sphere of utterance and this privacy should be respected. Personally it is thought that everyone at one point in time has told someone something in confidence to which they have passed it on to others without permission and in effect caused issues, in personal experience I can remember a time a friend telling a disliked individual about a remark made that resulted in an argument. These occur in both political and discourse communities where the sphere of an utterance has extended its intended proximity.

Speech is the special property of humans and what separates humans from other animals. It gives us perception of moral qualities, allowing us to discuss ethical and moral issues, and it is in partnership with these things that makes a a political community household or a city-state.. Speech is therefore directly connected with ethics and with the condition of being human and therefore so is electronic speech in discourse.

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