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Purdue Discourse Communities and Organizations--ENGL 106: Definition: "Discourse Community"

Resources to assist in exploring discourse communities and organizations at Purdue.

Reference Source Definition: Discourse Community

Used like SPEECH COMMUNITY to emphasise that individual language use is embedded in social relations and is regulated by conventions specific to particular groups or communities. However, it is often distinguished from ‘speech community’ on the grounds that speech communities are sociolinguistic groupings with communicative needs such as socialisation and group solidarity, whereas discourse communities are groupings based on common interests. ‘Discourse community’ is also often used to signal a focus on written rather than spoken texts, such as the writing of the academic discourse community or the reading of magazines by adolescents. An influential model of the defining characteristics of a discourse community was developed by Swales (1990), who lists the following characteristics.

A discourse community:

  • has a broadly agreed set of common public goals;

  • has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members;

  • uses its participatory mechanisms to provide information and feedback;

  • utilises and hence possesses one or more GENRES in the communicative furtherance of its aims;

  • has acquired some specific LEXIS;

  • has a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise (25-7).

A principal criticism of the term discourse community, as of speech community and another related term, COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE, is the implied homogeneous, often idealised, nature of the community and its associated language practices.

In A Dictionary of Sociolinguistics. Retrieved from

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John Fritch
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