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Understanding Discourse:
From Ethnosemantics to Transactional Engineering

Dr. Leon James
Professor of Psychology
University of Hawaii
Syllabus for Psychology 700, Ethnosemantics and Psycholinguistics
A systematic exploration of the five movements of discourse:

(1) Ethnosemantic Outlines (the reconstruction of taxonomic relationships in lexical and morphophonemic displays in ordinary talk);

(2) Topic Focus (the description of register modality mechanisms underlying the structure of topicalization in conversation and writing);

(3) Display Repertoire (a characterization of standard cultural units of behavior and a definition of context);

(4) Constitutive Exchanges (the functional analysis of discourse as a system of exchanges of transactional moves; the systematic analysis of transcripts of taped conversation; the description of the structure of discourse, narratives, story-telling, and the instructional register),

(5) Transactional Engineering (the application of the four movements to actuality).


Table of Contents
Level I: The Five Movements of Discourse
Level II: The Basic Formal Components
Level III: Clarifying Conceptions
Level IV: Explanatory Outlines (Understanding and Prediction)
To the bottom


PREAMBLE: Understanding discourse involves its description in terms of the

following five movements:

1. Describing the taxonomic structure of ethnosemantic outlines;

2. Specifying the derivation of topic focus;

3. Analyzing the functional properties of display repertoire;

4. Explicating the system of constitutive exchanges;

5. Presenting the basic principles of transactional engineering.


Understanding Discourse refers to the systematic description of the processes and mechanisms involved in the production of talk and its derivative uses in writing, teaching, psychotherapy, and everyday mythology.

Ethnosemantic Outlines characterize a cultural group; define the standard reality; specify reciprocally ratifiable recognitions.

Topic Focus identifies boundary markers by contracting the possible set of ethnosemantic features to a particular set; specifies the salient or appropriate features of a setting.

Display Repertoire relates the participant to topic focus; characterizes the individual participant; defines "personal."

Constitutive Exchanges characterize the dealings of participants; relate participants to one another.

Transactional Engineering is the scientific application of understanding discourse in the practical uses of talk, forms of written discourse, institutional mechanisms of enculturation,, training and instruction, therapy, counseling, and living everyday mythology.


1. Ethnosemantic Outlines

A. Understanding the semantics of culture

B. The construction of an ethnosemantic thesaurus

C. The cultural group

D. Practicality: A socio-functional mechanism

E. Standard and personal secrets

F. The re-construction of the standard reality

2. Topic Focus

A. Topic as a process of contraction

B. Sanctioned topical outlines

C. Register Modality: specialized topic focusing mechanisms

D. Understanding: individual characterizations in topic focusing

3. Display Repertoire

A. Mechanisms of alignment

B. Displays signal alignments

C. Deictic mechanisms

D. Sequencing of displays

E. Alignments imply identity

F. Identity and record create the participant

4. Constitutive Exchanges

A. The nature and character of constitutive exchanges

B. The Basic Principle: alternating turns of moves

C. Types of Moves

D. Types of Assertions

E. Topicalization dynamics

F. Discourse structure

G. Common and subtle levels of exchange

5. Transactional Engineering

A. The transactional system of claims

B. The Standard Register

C. The Radicalist Register

D. Role Enactments

E. Managing "unconscious" exchanges

F. TE in education

G. TE in psychotherapy

H. TE in everyday mythology


1.A. (i) Discovering socio-functional morphophonemic relationships

(ii) The system of affixing in English

(iii) Re-cognition: The identification of standards

(iv) me nominalizing and predicating function of lexical units

1.B. (i) Hierarchical embeddings

(ii) Taxonomic embeddings

(iii) Roget's Thesaurus

(iv) Deriving ethnosemantic clusters

(v) Psychomechanics and Psychosystematics

1.C. (i) The function of reciprocity

(ii) The function of ratification

(iii) The function of exchange

(iv) The mechanics of exchange (v) relationship

(vi) identity

(vii) record

(viii) participant

(ix) contrastive displays

1.D. (i) the function of function

(ii) meaning is a formula

(iii) reference is an identification

(iv) the planetary logic: common sense

(v) un-common sense: separate realities

(vi) the logic of logic

(vii) the logic of the logic of logic

1.E. (i) things we all know but never talk about

(ii) things we all know but can never talk about

(iii) things we don't know

(iv) things we can't know

(v) things we know but don't know we know

(vi) what happens when secrets are mentioned

1.F. (i) genesis: making sense

(ii) here/now programming

(iii) knowledge and experience

(iv) organized knowledge

(v) existential metaphysies

(vi) ethnomethodolofical functionalism

(vii) oriented to features


2.A. (i) practical implications (vii) relationship identity, contrast

(ii) personal implications (viii) the dialectic movement

(iii) forced choice nodes (ix) multidimensional space

(iv) coherent clusters (x) pragmatics as socio-functionalism

(v) information selection (xi) individual talent and genius

(vi) functional markers

2.B. (i) the school curriculum

(ii) the mass media

(iii) historical reconstruction

(iv) identity status

2.C. (i)selectional feature mechanisms

(ii) positioning, alignment, perspective, focus

(iii) professionalism

(iv) prejudice

(v) identification

(vi) move connectors

(vii) move directors

(viii) alogorythmic creativity

2.D. (i) the psychomechanics of talent

(ii) the psychomechanics of genius

(iii) life theme, role enactment, individual destiny

(iv) personal and universal

(v) individual reconstruction of reality

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