Difference Between Text & Discourse

Key Difference – Text vs Discourse

Text and discourse are two concepts frequently discussed in the fields of linguistics, literature, and language studies. There is an ongoing debate about whether these terms are interchangeable. Some linguists consider text and discourse analysis to be the same process, while others use the terms to define different ideas. The main distinction between text and discourse is that text refers to any written material that can be read, while discourse is the use of language in a social context.

What is Text?

A text can be described as an object that can be read, such as a piece of literature, a written lesson on a blackboard, or a street sign. It is a coherent set of signs that conveys some kind of informative message. In literary studies, the term text typically refers to written material, like novels, short stories, and dramas. The content of a letter, bill, poster, or any other entity containing written material can also be called a text.

What is Discourse?

The term discourse has numerous meanings and definitions. Initially, discourse was seen as dialogue – an interaction between a speaker and a listener. In this context, discourse referred to authentic daily communications, primarily oral, within a broad communicative context. The term was later used to describe the totality of codified language used in a specific field of intellectual inquiry and 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.

What is the difference between Text and Discourse?

Although many linguists have assigned different meanings to text and discourse, there is no universally agreed-upon distinction between the two. Some even use the terms synonymously. For instance, Widdowson (1973) explains that text is made up of sentences and has the property of cohesion, while discourse is made up of utterances and has the property of coherence. However, these definitions became ambiguous in his later works, as he described discourse as something made up of sentences and omitted any mention of text.

Key Takeaways

  • 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.
  • Some linguists view text and discourse as interchangeable, while others use the terms to define separate concepts.

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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Maria Nguyen
Maria Nguyen
Maria Nguyen is a talented writer with a flair for developing captivating content in a range of formats. Her commitment to thorough research and producing top-notch material has contributed to over 4 years of professional writing and editing experience. Outside of work, Maria finds pleasure in solitary activities and immersing herself in nature. Her introspective nature and passion for self-reflection inspire her creativity. She believes that spending time alone and observing the natural world can provide valuable insights and foster personal growth, broadening her perspective as a writer.


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