Everyone is a discourse analyst now: Multimodality and hypostasis

What is the difference between a discourse analyst with training in linguistic methodology and a blogger or the reader of a blog? Discourse analysis relies on the human capacity to understand text but it is also embedded in the social practices of discussing and inferring the meaning from text. The following example of a simple computer-generated graphical representation of Obama's speech (courtesy of Wordle.net) in many ways does the job of half an academic paper. It presents the data and lets the reader infer meanings (particularly in comparison with other speeches). The key question is, how much more can an academic discourse analyst do? What more can be revealed? Of course, much more analytical work can be done on the text but the amount of effort, in my experience, brings increasingly diminishing returns. Simple counting of occurences without context and type of use is very inaccurate but can still present an accurate picture in aggregate. The key contribution of an analyst should be a look at what role these key words play in evoking frames, i.e. how meaning is created and how it is linked to its social context. This can still be done by any competent member of a particular discourse community. And, in fact, all discourse communities have members who specialise in this sort of work, be they journalists, bloggers or simply the person in the pub who muses on the paradoxes of speech. So the contribution made by an analyst is the perspective of somebody who is not part of the speech community or makes an effort to assume that point of view. This can only be done to a certain extent because any involvement with a text brings the interpreter at least partially into the speech community. But it is not entirely impossible. The question then remains as to the utility of such analysis? Often, it could be to the benefit of the speech community itself but more importantly it can contribute to our knowledge of how language works as a cognitive and social phenomenon. How exactly that could be is something to investigate.

Word Cloud Analysis of Obama's Inaugural Speech Compared to Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Lincoln's - ReadWriteWeb There were quite a few concepts discussed that we suspect haven't been a part of past inaugural speeches. What words were used most often? We ran the full text of the speech through tag cloud generator Wordle.net for one view of the event, and just for the sake of historical context we ran George W. Bush's second inaugural speech through as well. Update: After one reader suggested it, we've also added word clouds from Bill Clinton's second inaugural speech and Reagan's first below. Second update: By reader request, we've added Lincoln's first and second inaugural speeches as well.

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