Discourse Analysis by Z. Harris

Discourse Analysis by Z. Harris

A short review of the history of linguistics of the first half of the 20th century is not complete without a well-known work of Zellig Harris “Discourse Analysis”, which came out in 1952. Officially, it is already the second hall of the 20th century, but it is impossible to ignore this work because it is a kind of starting point for modern Text Linguistics. Many scholars claim it to be a program document for the new scientific discipline. Some of Z. Harris’ words with the time have become aphorisms (maxims) and are quoted in many works on Text linguistics. For instance: “Language manifests itself not in the form of incoherent words or sentences, but in the form of a coherent text, from the utterances consisting of one word to the ten-volume work, from the monologue to the discussion in Union Square”.

Z. Harris applied to the, discourse (or text) analysis some methodological principles, which worked perfectly for the study of language units of a lower level (such as segmentation, classification, distribution). This appeared to be one of the possible ways f analyzing text structure and revealing the role of a separate element in this structure. Here is the order of analysis. At first the selection of elements (or groups of elements), which appear in the identical or equivalent surrounding, is carried out. Secondly, the selected elements are combined into classes of equivalence. Consecutive combination of the classes of equivalences makes up intervals, which, in their turn, compose (make up) the whole text. Thus, a text consists of consecutive combination of equivalence classes.

Z. Harris’ method is based on purely formal procedures of revealing the structural peculiarities of a text, without considering the semantics of the constituting elements. M. Bierwisch criticizes Z. Harris’s views in his review of the 2nd edition of “Discourse Analysis” in Papers on Formal Linguistics. Z. Plains’ further research, according to W. Dressier, turned out to be not very productive as compared with “Discourse Analysis”, and remained practically unnoticed. Anyway, Z. Harris managed to break the limits of sentence grammar and introduced grammar on the textual level.