National Autonomous University of Mexico
After four decades from Foucault’s inaugural address on the order of discourse and Widdowson’s paper on the distinction between text and discourse, there is no common definition of discourse among scholars. Nor is there a clear view on what they ought to account for and explain.
Each of the most frequently found conceptions of discourse captures different intuitions of discourse users, as well as different contributions from general research on language and from specific research on discourse; but all contradict equally important intuitions and ideas, too. I have proposed a definition of a discourse as a complex sign, which integrates the valid and relevant points of those conceptions and avoids their problematic ones: a set of articulated signs whose signifiers are themselves signs (situated utterances) and whose signifieds are pragmatic vectors (combinations of references and predications with epistemic, deontic and evaluative attitudes).
In this paper, I will summarise the research that has lead to those results, elaborate on some fine issues and, from there, propose that the main data a science of discourse should be concerned with are discourse users’ judgements on discourse properties, and not frequency distributions of linguistic items, which today receive most of the attention in many quarters. I will claim that, for such a discipline, accounting for singularities will be at least as crucial as accounting for regularities. I will argue that the main problem that ought to be addressed now is the form of rules that could explain systemic couplings (mainly among systems of language, speech situations, knowledge and social relations). And I will suggest some examples of such rules.