A majority of the world’s population do not understand what a discourse community is or that they could be in or several at the same time. Swales made this phenomenon known to the world and in his way explained how he sees discourse communities in the society. He defined what discourse communities are and even went ahead to discuss their characteristics. The truth is, the community is filled with thousands of small discourse communities which then make up the societies we live in today. A person is normally in a discourse community at any point in their life. First of all, the term discourse community must be explained before the article delves deeper and further into the inner workings of discourse communities. Swales defines discourse communities as “groups that have goals or purposes, and use communication to achieve these goals.”
From Swales’ definition, two things stand out about these groups. One is that they have goals or objectives and two is that they make use of communication to achieve these goals or objectives. However, this definition does not go further to explain whether the communication used is solely for the group or can be used by other groups. As it will be explained later, these groups do have special communication mechanisms and use language that only suits them. For example, students will use a different language to their teachers’. The above is simply because both have different goals and are in different stages of life. Therefore, age and point in life matters when one considers discourse communities. The communication mechanisms used must fit the targets set, and the goals must indeed be achieved. The groups, therefore, choose the channels they are comfortable with and use them to their end.
Characteristics of Discourse Communities
Several distinct features can identify discourse communities, and they are as discussed below:
- Set of common goals. A discourse community is united with its set of goals. For example, students will only think of passing their exams or getting to the next class. For teachers, the goal will be to ensure that students are taught, and the necessary values needed to navigate through life are cultivated. The goals are common and known by all members of this group. The important thing to note here is that a discourse community exists beyond borders because the goals of teachers all over the world is known as well as that of students, pilots, doctors, nurses, etc. The goals are known and help to unite the people towards a common point.
- Mechanisms of intercommunication. This involves how the people in the different groups communicate or pass information around. It will indeed not make sense for doctors to tweet about what a patient needs or to discuss a patient’s needs on Facebook. However, it will make sense if a group is created on Facebook and doctors post questions pertaining to their field. The channel does not matter so much because it introduces other factors such as convenience, timeliness, age, etc. which are also relevant here. The main point, however, is that communication must exist among the members of a discourse community or else the goals will not be achieved. For the goals to be achieved, there has to be coordination and cooperation among all the members. Therefore, communication must exist.
- Application of participatory mechanisms for feedback and information provision. A discourse community must also have something common which they share, and that helps to keep the group glued together. Information must be shared, and while the means of sharing may vary, this does not in any way reduce or demean the essence of the practice. Additionally, there has to be feedback as well. For there to be effective communication between members of any group, there has to be a seamless feedback mechanism. This means that there has to be a way in which the group passes information and the members can respond to it. A good example is how blog users and bloggers communicate with each other. When bloggers post information on their sites, they expect those in their discourse community to comment and offer them feedback. This is indeed a good example of a participatory mechanism.
- Utilizes and has a single or more genre in the communicative furtherance of its aims. As already stated, every discourse community has its own unique way of communicating. Additionally, every group must also have its preferred genre or text which it uses to ensure its members can participate or be engaged in the affairs of the group. Groups communicate differently and choose varying genres to converse about their aims. Some of the genres include magazine articles, blogs, websites, newspaper articles, etc. As stated, each group chooses whichever it prefers.
- Acquires specific lexis. Lexis refers to the specific vocabulary the community adopts and uses among its members. Every group or community typically has its specific jargon which it uses to help with its intercommunication needs. This jargon or vocabulary is quite specific and cannot be interchanged between the groups. For example, an engineer will most likely find it uncomfortable to be in a room full of doctors regardless of the number of degrees he has in engineering. This is simply because he will not understand what is being talked about and nothing that interests him/her will come up. Additionally, cyclists have their specific jargon which entails the different riding styles or techniques, the equipment, and bicycle parts. Compared to vehicle drivers, their jargon will indeed differ greatly.
- Has a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise. Every discourse community changes or evolves with time. At any one point, there has to be a healthy ration between beginners and experts. There have to be enough experts to ensure the class’s continuity, and there have to be enough beginners as well. However, it is critical to note that different groups vary and this ratio changes in every group. While in some cases two people will be enough, in other cases there needs to be a minimum of five members like in a basketball team. As stated, every group is unique and encompasses different attributes.
In conclusion, discourse communities exist in every aspect of life. Knowingly or unknowingly, every individual belongs to a particular group and depicts the aspects or characteristics of that group. It may not be obvious, but the society is indeed made of several thousand or hundreds of thousands of discourse communities.