Glossary

Affordances

Opportunities present in a rhetorical situation that a rhetor can exploit to benefit the discourse. See also: Constraints.

[Derived from Gibson (1979), “The Theory of Affordances,” p. 56.]

Audience

The person(s), real or imagined, whose thoughts or actions a rhetor attempts to influence through discourse.

[Derived from Bitzer (1968), “The Rhetorical Situation,” p. 6.]

Constraints

Factors in a rhetorical situation that limit the rhetor’s options when creating discourse. Note that these limitations can be helpful, just as a seatbelt helpfully constrains a passenger from leaving a vehicle during a collision. See also: Affordances.

[Derived from Grant-Davie (1997), “Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents,” p. 273.]

Discourse

Communication using language or symbols, typically created with the intent of influencing thoughts or actions. Often, discourse is as simple and obvious as engaging in conversation or sharing some writing. It can also be as complex and subtle as clothing choices, attitudes, and expressions that make a person fit in with a group because each of these conveys information. This kind of complex discourse takes time and experience to learn.

For example, people born in the United States’ southern states have a distinct discourse, including things like word choice (“darlin'”), accent (the "Southern drawl"), characteristic phrases with layers of meaning (“oh bless his heart”), values (their hospitality), expectations (general slowness of action), and so on. While you can learn to mimic the accent, can be taught the common phrases, and even be born in the southern states, that’s not the same as being a Southerner, which requires lived experience and cultural integration to fully adopt the discourse.

[Derived from Gee (1989), “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction,” p. 6.]

Discourse Community

A group of people who together use writing to work toward shared goals. From this shared focus consequently comes a sense of group identity and discursive norms.

[Derived from Swales (1990), “The Concept of Discourse Community,” p. 23.]

Exigence

A condition or event—often a problem to be solved—that prompts a rhetor to create discourse.

[Derived from Grant-Davie (1997), “Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents,” p. 266.]

Genre

A typified response to a recurring rhetorical situation.

[Derived from Miller (1984), “Genre as Social Action.”]

Lexis

Specialized language made essential by the work of a discourse community. This can include specific acronyms or technical terminology. Members of the discourse community use these terms freely or casually, as they are commonplace within that group, but outsiders will not understand either the terms or their significance and nuance.

[Derived from Swales (1990), “The Concept of Discourse Community,” p. 26.]

Medium

The material (digital or physical) conveying a piece of discourse. Physical media include things like letters, billboards, and tombstones; digital media include things like emails, text files, and snaps.

Note: A medium is not a genre; the concept of “medium” is too broad. For instance, emails are not a genre because they are used to respond to myriad rhetorical situations. Each genre comes about in response to one rhetorical situation, albeit a recurring one. Therefore, a spam alert email from TI³ would be a genre, but email is the medium used for that genre.

Purpose

The rhetor’s intended outcome or goal for a piece of discourse; the proposed solution to the exigence’s problem.

Rhetor

The person(s), real or imagined, creating a given discourse.

[Derived from Bitzer (1968), “The Rhetorical Situation,” p. 4.]

Rhetoric

The use of discourse to influence people’s thoughts or actions.

[Derived from Bitzer (1968), “The Rhetorical Situation,” p. 4.]

Rhetorical Situation

The context of a piece of discourse—people, history, things, and ideas that relate to and shape the discourse.

[Derived from Bitzer (1968), “The Rhetorical Situation,” p. 5]

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Writing @ Saint Leo by Chris Friend is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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