A Theory of Discourse by James Kinneavy

The Four Aims of Discourse

1. To inform: like a pane of clear glass allows the viewer to look through to reality.
2. To be beautiful: like a stained glass window is to be looked at and admired.
3. To persuade: like a shard of glass to convince.
4. To express: like a mirror reflecting the thoughts of the soul.

The Four Types of Discourse

1. If the primary aim is to inform, the discourse is referential: 

  • exploratory
  • scientific
  • informative

2. If the primary aim is to be beautiful, the discourse is literary: 

  • stories, songs, dramas, or jokes.

3. If the primary aim is to persuade, the discourse is persuasive: 

  • advertising, political speeches, religious sermons, legal oratory, or editorials.

4. If the primary aim is to express, the discourse is expressive: 

  • of the individual in conversations, journals, diaries, or prayer; 

            of social units in protests, manifestoes, contracts, constitutions, myths, or religious credios.

 The Norms vs Overlap

“The norms [or characterisics of the categories] are distinct for the various aims of discourse . . . but overlap is a hard fact . . . ” 
(A Theory of Discourse, Kinneavy  62, 63).

The Kinneavy Discourse Triangle

“Basic to all uses of language are a person who encodes a message, the signal (language) which carries the message, the reality to which the message refers, and the decoder (receiver of the message)” 
(A Theory of Discourse, Kinneavy 19).

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