Discourse analysis studies social interaction. A part of linguistics, it has become increasingly popular since the late 80's.
Discourse analysts often use particular symbols to explain discourse. These may include marks to denote a short pause, a long pause, words spoken at the same time and words which are unclear.
In discourse analysis the two speakers in a conversation are called the speaker and the hearer. Though the word "hearer" may appear to suggest one who is passive or does not wish to participate in the conversation as opposed to the word "listener", this is in fact the word that is commonly used.
Speakers often do not speak directly. For example, the utterance "I haven't played tennis in a long time" may mean "I'd love to play tennis with you". If the speaker feels that he/she has lower status than the hearer, the utterance "When can we play tennis?" may be too direct.
Likewise, if a person pronounces a language incorrectly, the hearer may reply, "Your pronunciation is very good" because the direct "Your pronunciation is incorrect" may hurt his/her feelings. If the reply "Your pronunciation is very good" is said without emotion, it may simply be an attempt to be polite.
Another example of an indirect reply is "Maybe later" to the question "Would you like a cup of coffee?" This is much softer than the reply "No" and is rather common in the Japanese culture. This is particularly true in cases where the speaker has higher status than the hearer.
Discourse analysis is a relatively new and important research area in linguistics. It is important for understanding the ways in which speakers communicate with one another. Based on the relationship between the speaker and hearer, the words which they use can vary significantly.
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