Difference Between Text and Discourse

Key Difference – Text vs Discourse

Text and discourse are two terms that are commonly used in linguistics, literature, and language studies. There are many debates about the interchangeability of these two terms. Some linguistics view text and discourse analysis as the same process whereas some others use these two terms to define different concepts. Text can refer to any written material that can be read. Discourse is the use of language in a social context. This is the key difference between text and discourse.

What is Text?

A text can be defined as an object that can be read, whether it is a work of literature, a lesson written on the blackboard, or a street sign. It is a coherent set of signs that transmits some kind of informative message.

In literary studies, text usually refers to the written material. We use the term text when we are discussing novels, short stories, and dramas. Even the content of a letter, bill, poster or similar entities that contain written material can be called a text.Key Difference - Text vs  Discourse

What is Discourse?

The term discourse has many meanings and definitions. Discourse was first interpreted as dialogue – an interaction between a speaker and a listener. Thus, discourse referred to authentic daily communications, mainly oral, included in the wide communicative context. The term discourse was then also used to refer to the totality of codified language used in a particular field intellectual inquiry and of social practice (e.g. medical discourse, legal discourse, etc.)

Michael Foucault defines discourse as “systems of thoughts composed of ideas, attitudes, courses of action, beliefs, and practices that systematically construct the subjects and the worlds of which they speak.”

In linguistics, discourse is generally considered to be the use of written or spoken language in a social context.

Difference Between Text and Discourse

What is the difference between Text and Discourse?

Although many linguists have given different meanings to these two terms, there is no clear cut definition between the two. Some also use these two terms as synonyms.

For example, Widdowson (1973) describes that text is made up of sentences and have the property of cohesion whereas discourse is made up of utterances and have the property of coherence. But, these definitions have become ambiguous in his later works as he describes discourse as something that is made up of sentences, and omits any mention of text.

  • Text refers to any object that can be read.
  • Discourse has different definitions depending on the context. In a broad and general sense, discourse is considered to be the use of spoken and written language in a social context.
Lessa, I. (2006). Discursive struggles within social welfare: Restaging teen motherhood. British Journal of Social Work, 36(2), 283-298.
Hoey, M. (1991). A tentative map of discourse studies and their place in linguistics. Ilha do Desterro A Journal of English Language, Literatures in English and Cultural Studies, (25/26), 131-150.
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