TEXTOPEDIA - Discurso & Sociedad


Teun A. van Dijk

Version 1.0. October 17, 2005

The macrostructure of a discourse is the structure of its global meaning, topic or theme. Macrostructures are derived or inferred from the local meanings (the propositions, or semantic microstructure) of discourse by a number of rules or strategies that reduce complex information. For instance, from a possibly very long and complex sequence of propositions of a story such as <Mary went to the airport. She took a taxi… She checked in for the flight to Paris… She went to the gate…> we may infer the "global" meaning or macroproposition Mary flew to Paris. Such inferences may take place in various steps or stages: the proposition "Mary checked in for the flight to Paris" may itself be a (more specific) macroproposition of a sequence such as <Mary arrived at the airport. She walked to the check-in counter of Air France. There was a long queue of people waiting...>. Conversely, we may say that such macropropositions at various levels organize the local propositions of a discourse. People may have such macropropositions or "topic" in mind when they want to tell a story or write a news report. They then produce the local details of a story with such a topic as an overall means of making sure that the story is globally coherent. Macrostructures are not only important to manage complex information in the production of discourse but also in comprehension and recall. The notion of macrostructure has been extraordinarily useful to account for many properties of discourse and language use. For instance, experiments have shown that these global meanings are usually best recalled by language users. Also, macrostructures explain how and why language users are able to summarize talk and text or to produce a "gist" of what they have heard or read. Not only for discourse, but more generally for all forms of complex information, macrostructures are necessary to organize, reduce and manage such complex information. Macrostructures should not be confused with superstructures of discourse, which are also global structures, but not of meaning, but of form. They provide the "format" or "schema" that organize the macropropositions of discourse, as is the case for the conventional format of a news report or scientific article.

Selected References


Internet Links:

In October 2005 there were some 14,000 pages in Google that dealt with macrostructures of discourse. See, e.g. the Wikipedia entry on Text Grammar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Text_grammar).


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