The following sample essay on History of Critical Discourse Analysis tells the story of the beginning of the CDA and the concept of CDA in general.
Critical discourse analysis (CDA) started at the University of East Anglia in the 1970s, but it was not broadly developed by linguists such as Teun Van Dijk or Ruth Wodak started to study it the 1990s. Van Dijk proposed a sociocognitive approach to CDA connecting three aspects: discourse, cognition and society. Some people are more superior than others because of their social status.
Even though superiority is essential to control society, those people take advantage of their social position to influence others through language. Van Dijk (1995:18) stated that CDA seeks to display what is unstated or unclear in their dominance or underlying ideologies. More precisely, CDA is taking into consideration the strategies of manipulation, legitimation and other discourse ways that affect people.
Political discourse is a discourse uttered by professional politicians (Van Dijk, 1997, p. 12). However, they are not the only ones who take part in politics.
In fact, the audience is also involved in the domain of politics from an instructional point of view. Furthermore, context is decisive to classify a discourse as political or not (Van Dijk, 1997, p. 14). Thus, he states different properties which are included in the context of political domains. Specifically, political discourse analysis (PDA) 4 is a perspective which focuses on the reproduction and contestation of political power through political discourse (Fairclough & Fairclough, 2012, p. 17). That is, political discourse occupies the way ruling classes control and dominate through language the dominated classes.
Indeed, discourse structures are employed not only because of an official criterion of decorum, but also because it helps politicians to manipulate official opinion, garner support or emphasize or de-emphasize political attitudes and opinions (Van Dijk, 1997, p. 25).
For instance, the use of repetition structures helps to reinforce an idea or use of passive or active sentences to emphasize specific words. On the other hand, Fairclough and Fairclough (2012) focus on the argumentation employed by politicians to analyze political discourse. In other words, they study the premises and conclusions used by politicians in rational persuasion to persuade and manipulate the audience. In fact, they argue that an argument can be rationally persuasive without being sound and premises can be rationally acceptable without being true (Fairclough & Fairclough, 2012, p. 52). To sum up, as Van Dijk (2008) states in his book Language and Power, PDA is studied at two levels which are constructed as a whole in everyday interaction: micro and macro level. He explains this binary distinction taking into consideration a racist speech uttered in a parliamentarian debate, where a politician expresses his or her personal political beliefs employing certain strategies of talk (micro level), but at the same time this person talks as a member of a group expressing the ideologies of a certain political party (macro level).
The Presidential debate is a sub-genre of political discourse because of its contextual features. As Chilton (2004, pp. 72-73) claims, presidential debates incorporate political contextual references and past political history references which are identified by the audience. Presidential debates are carried out for a particular purpose which is principally to show the citizens of a country the goals and opinions of the candidates. Debates also have a particular setting and rules which must be obeyed by the participants. These rules affect the way in which political actors speak as they have to adjust to a limited amount of time to express their concerns. Undoubtedly, one of the most interesting features of presidential debates is the face-to face interaction that takes place between interviewers and interviewees. The interviewer asks controversial questions to the interviewees to inform the audience and stay tuned to them. Besides, the interviewees are the candidates who want to be elected the president of the elections, so they are required to answer the questions in some minutes.
Related to this fact, according to Levinson (1983, p. 304), a question-answer is one type of adjacency pair which is considered to be a fundamental unit of conversational organization formed by two different speakers who utter two different utterances in a particular context. In debates, the interviewer poses a question (first pair part) which is answered by the interviewee (second pair part). In fact, the interviewer creates an expectation that must be fulfilled by the interviewee in his or her statement.
However, presidential debates do not simply have a definitive question-answer format; there is also an open debate and discussion between candidates where the opponents attack each other verbally. As Van Dijk (1997, p. 25) suggests: Campaigning politicians speak about themselves as candidates, about the elections, about voting for them, and the policies they promise to support when elected. They speak about opponents and political enemies and about the bad politics and policies of previous presidents, governments or parliaments.
These verbal attacks are interrelated with Goffman’s sociological theory (1959) which deals with the way people behave in society. Indeed, human behavior depends on personal scenarios and relationship with others so political actors in presidential debates project the best image of themselves to be acclaimed by the audience. Related to this fact, it is also important the contribution of Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory (1987). They based their theory Goffman’s sociological theory (1959) to state that face is considered a public image which every person wishes to claim. It can be positive or negative. Whereas positive face deals with the desire to be approved and accepted by others, negative face concerns with the freedom of action and not to be imposed by others. Keeping a positive face is one of the main goals in political interaction. Therefore, face-to-face interaction in political debates is based on the highlight and the protection of the positive face and the threat of the others positive face through a clever use of language.