In the fourth chapter of James Paul Gee’s book, An Introduction to Discourse Analysis, the focus is on social languages, Conversations (with a capital C), and intertextuality. Gee begins by providing some insight into these three terms.
Gee defines social languages as different varieties of languages that allow us to express socially significant Identities and enact socially meaningful practices and activities. Social language is how the whos and whats are communicated in language. Basically, we are looking at how people communicate who they are and what they are doing. Gee provides many examples, one of which is a warning label on medication. He notes that for this provided example, there are two “who-doing-whats”: a lawyerly voice and a voice of a caring yet authoritatively knowledgeable company. These two voices are used for different purposes and have different effects, and there is some tension between the two. Gee provides a term for this: “heteroglossic”, or double-voiced.
Gee goes on to discuss how each “who-doing-whats” are linguistically expressed in different social languages. Each social language has its own distinct grammar. Another example is given; a woman has a two conversations about the same topic with two different audiences. Her social language changes based on the audience. Word choice, formal versus informal sentence structure, and level of directness are all effected.
Conversations are discussed next. Gee defines Conversations (with a capital C) as debates in society or within specific social groups that a large number of people recognize. Gee notes that objects, values, and beliefs play a role in Conversations. And while people often know the themes and values of a Conversation, many do not know the historical events that create or sustain them.
Intertextuality is the focus of the end of the chapter, and the term is defined as cases where one oral or written text directly or indirectly quotes another text or alludes to another text in more subtle ways. Gee notes that sometimes a text will switch between two or more varieties of language by borrowing words from another text that uses a different variety of language.
There are a few ways in which a different language variety can be incorporated. Gee mentions direct quotes, indirect quotes, and the act of alluding to a different text. The choice to do one over the other is both meaningful and impactful. One can allude to research without ever quoting any research; this can, in certain instances, be manipulative.
Gee writes about these three terms because they are tools of inquiry, “our way of talking about and, thus, constructing and construing the world”. They are “thinking devices”. The chapter concludes with some examples of how one can use social languages, Conversations, and intertextuality as tools for inquiry.
When reading a text, Gee encourages readers to think about:
“A. What social language(s) are involved? What sorts of grammatical patterns indicate this? Are different social languages mixed? How so?
B. What socially situated identities and activities do these social languages enact?
C. What Discourse or Discourses are involved? How is “stuff” other than language (“mind stuff” and “emotional stuff” and “world stuff” and “interactional stuff” and non-language symbol systems, etc.) relevant in indicating socially situated identities and activities?
D. In considering this language, what sorts of relationships among different Discourses are involved (institutionally, in society, or historically)? How are different Discourses aligned or in contention here?
E. What Conversations (public debates over issues or themes) are relevant to understanding this language and to what Conversations does it contribute (institutionally, in society, or historically), if any?
F. How does intertextuality work in the text, that is, in what ways does the text quote, allude to, or otherwise borrow words from other oral or written sources? What function does this serve in the text?”