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Text and Context: The Role of Context in Discourse Analysis

Tara E. Tarpey & Donna Delprete
Teachers College, Columbia University


For discourse analysts, the notion of context is a key factor that differentiates approaches to data analysis. While most approaches involve a micro-level analysis of stretches of text or talk, it is the “breadth of contexts in which utterances are considered” (Gordon, 2009, p. 192) that varies among approaches. What precisely constitutes context (i.e., whether it is limited to the locally produced utterances or is extended to include the world outside of the text or talk), and how much (or how little) context should be considered in the analysis has generated some hearty debates (see Billig, 1999a, 1999b; Schegloff, 1997; Tracy, 2010). The aim of this forum is neither to rehash these debates nor to argue in favor of one perspective over another. Instead, this forum will further broaden the already broadly defined notion of context by viewing it from multiple dimensions.

This edition of the forum comprises six commentaries on the role of context in discourse analysis by members of Dr. Hansun Zhang Waring’s Spring 2010 Doctoral Seminar in Applied Linguistics at Teachers College, Columbia University. These contributions span a breadth of contexts, from a family dinnertime conversation to a classroom setting, and each contributor presents a distinct perspective on how and how much context figures into analysis.

In the first commentary, Junko Takahashi examines the role of cultural context in understanding compliments and compliment responses in Japanese conversation. Next, Drew Fagan discusses the importance of considering multiple domains of teacher knowledge as context so as to enrich analysis of language classrooms. Catherine DiFelice Box employs the notion of procedural consequentiality to demonstrate how context unfolds within the discourse of a classroom interaction. Sarah Creider utilizes both conversation analysis and Goffman’s (1974) theories of frames and footing to reveal the multiple layers of context in a single turn of teacher talk. Rebekah Johnson and Donna DelPrete analyze a family dinnertime conversation to show how context features in family discourse. Finally, Tara Tarpey merges conversation analysis and ethnography in the analysis of an interaction between a tutor and a tutee in a writing center.



We would like to thank Dr. Hansun Zhang Waring for her invaluable comments on each piece in this forum. We are also grateful to Adrienne Wai Man Lew, the Managing Editor, for her supervision and constructive advice. Finally, we thank the participants in all of our data excerpts, without whom these pieces would not be possible.


Billig, M. (1999a). Whose terms? Whose ordinariness? Rhetoric and ideology in conversation analysis. Discourse & Society, 10, 543-558.
Billig, M. (1999b). Conversation analysis and the claims of naivety. Discourse & Society, 10, 572-576.
Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis. Lebanon, NH: Northeastern University Press.
Gordon, C. (2009). Making meanings, creating family: Intertextuality and framing in family interaction. New York: Oxford University Press.
Schegloff, E. A. (1997). Whose text? Whose context? Discourse & Society, 8, 165–87.
Tracy, K. (2010). Analyzing context: Framing the discussion. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 31, 1-28.

Please click here for the Transcription Key.


b Culture as Context
Junko Takahashi

b Teacher Knowledge as Context
Drew S. Fagan

b Classroom as Context: Procedural Consequentiality in a Secondary English Classroom
Catherine DiFelice Box

b Layered Contexts
Sarah Creider

b Family as Context
Rebekah Johnson and Donna DelPrete

b The Institution as Context
Tara E. Tarpey

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