“Discourse” by Theo Van Leeuwen


The chapter “Discourse” is taken from the book “Introducing Social Semiotics «and is written by Theo Van Leeuwen. The author has made a great contribution to the development of the student’s abilities to develop apply the acquired knowledge to analytical thinking as well as to communicate effectively. In addition, it also teaches how to use your philosophical semiotics in social intercourse and to approach the problem critically.

The author has greatly deposited to the improvement of such scientific areas as semiotics, multimodality, and critical discourse analysis. His research preferences are also centered on media discourse. He has published many linguistically oriented books and “Introducing Social Semiotics” is his latest publication. His other works are highly appraised among the scientists and have an incredible value for further study in that field. In addition, Van Leeuwen’s greatest contribution also lied in the unusual approach to the study of discourse and the field of semiotics. He managed to combine history, linguistics, and music with the process of social discourse and emphasized the importance to involve external aspects such as unemployment or race discrimination in the discourses. Still, the unusual theoretical approach is applied in all his researches and, in that way, singles him out of other theorists of this field. Meanwhile, other authors are mostly focused on the grammar peculiarities of discourse.


The chapter under consideration covers the problems of discourse in terms of semiotics and external conditions affecting successful communication. Due to the fact that the writer concentrates on the recourses of the discourse but not on the meaning of the texts, he defines the notion of discourse as “the key to studying how semiotic resources are used to construct representations of what is going on in the world” (Van Leeuween, Theo 2005 p. 91).

The content of the chapter can be logically divided into three main parts. The chapter starts with the definition of the notion and its consideration from different retrospectives. In the second part, the writer illustrates the multiplicity of discourses giving various interpretations of the notion of hearts through historical, social, and contextual angles. The author makes a conclusion that the discourse is a “combination of knowing” (Van Leeuwen, Theo p. 94). The description of discourse from two different sides does not limit us to find more discourses. According to the author, the definition directly depends on the situation in which this discourse is applied. Hence, he emphasizes the necessity to give significant attention to the discourse distribution, namely, the pragmatic aspect of discourse. In the final part of the chapter, Leeuwen discloses the realization of discourse in various environments including the occasional rendering of the notion. He puts forward an interesting idea about the social nature of the discourse that he considers to be the basis for other aspects of social life. Proving the social nature of discourse, Leeuwen logically leads to the assumption that discourse is part of social semiotics. The outcome of the chapter serves as the background for studying genre peculiarities of discourse that are regarded as the core element of social semiotics. Consequently, the structure of the book is rather consistent and the parts of the books are interconnected.


In my opinion, the chapter comprises rather useful ideas to remember since the author discovers the notion of discourse from an unconventional point of view. The great advantage of the chapter is in its simplicity of interpretation. The presented ideas are successfully proved by simple examples. In particular, he gives various definitions of the heart defining as from the medical, historical, philosophical, and social ground. By this example, he blurs the grammatical limits of discourse and widens its meaning. In other words, the author’s main goal is to include not only grammatical aspects but also semantic and pragmatic categories. I completely agree with the idea of the meaning of belonging discourse to different cultures and different semiotic modes. Consequently, the semantic-functional approach allows perceiving the meaning of a certain culture. On the other hand, these meanings do not come to the fore if explaining the concept from a linguistic angle.

Another moment I coalesce with the great role of the context in defining the meaning. Leeuwen also proves the necessity to refer to the cultural and philosophical contexts. However, the test environment should be neglected as well and there should not be a theoretic confrontation between grammatical meaning and pragmatic meaning.

The author’s research contributed to the study of discourse on the upper level. Moreover, it promoted further studies in this field and gave a firm ground to providing research of semiotic resources in different contexts. The writer singles out the human aspect in the process of communication because this area combines both social semiotics and historic and cultural background. The presumption is important because the linguistic aspect can depict the traditions of human communication and from a historical aspect can explain the nature of communicative tradition. Hence comes, social semiotics provides specific tools for the consideration of new dimensions of communication and makes discourse an important link in the chain of this social science.

Works Cited

Van Leeuwen, Theo. Introducing Social Semiotics London: Routledge, 2005.

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