9 December 2009
Frisch’s Discourse Community
What is a discourse community? According to John Swales, a respected written communication analyst, a discourse community is described as a group of people that have the same goals or purposes, and use communication to achieve these goals. In addition, “A discourse operates within conventions defined by communities, be they academic disciplines or social groups” (Swales, 119). This is not be confused with a speech community, “a community sharing knowledge of rules for the conduct and interpretation of speech” (Swales 121). In determining whether or not a group is a discourse community, there are several certain rules, rather a list of criteria, in which the certain community must comply with in order to be established as a discourse community.
The group of people that I observed, and now am writing about, is the employees at the Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant in Toledo Ohio. Being an ex-employee and because no one in the past has verified this coalition as a discourse community, I have chosen this establishment’s occupants to analyze. In this workplace, there are three different types of positions that employees can assume. These three occupations include; the servers (waiter or waitress), the cooks, and the managers. There are really only two levels of expertise, the managers have the highest ranking in the Big Boy “hierarchy” and everyone else (cooks and servers) are equal. At any one time throughout the day, there are always three servers, two cooks and a manager on staff, however, occasionally during holidays and special weekends these numbers vary. In order for the restaurant to successfully function, all the employees must work together as a team. This is why communication is essential; any miscommunication can lead to a number of potential problems. Although communication is a key factor in a discourse community, there are several more characteristics that must be considered before establishing a group as a discourse community. Soon after analyzing the Frisch’s team, it is apparent that they, as a group, pass all of John Swale’s criteria and therefore, qualify as a discourse community.
As stated before, according to John Swales there are six characteristics that must apply to a group of individuals in order for them to be considered a discourse community. The first characteristic states that a discourse community has a broadly agreed set of common public goals. After observing the Frisch’s group on a Saturday afternoon as they worked, I noted that their number one priority and goal was insuring customer satisfaction. If customers are not satisfied with their experience at Frisch’s they may not return in the future, which hurts the business and can potentially lead to the closing of the restaurant. Furthermore, if the restaurant were to close down then all of its employees would lose their jobs, and any thought of this group being a discourse community would be terminated. Aside from the obvious goal of customer satisfaction, another goal which all the employees share is making money. This also explains why the group exists. Although the employees have varying motives to make money, everyone who works at Frisch’s is there because they are working to get their pay check at the end of each week. Furthermore, because Frisch’s employees have an agreed set of common goals, they pass Swales’ first part of six different criteria, making them one step closer to being considered a discourse community.
The second and third characteristics in Swales’ criteria go rather hand in hand. The second pertains to the mechanism of intercommunication among the group’s members, and the third relates to the purposes of these mechanisms. Just like any other restaurant business the use of phone calls is the most common way of communication between employees. For example, Sarah, a server, was scheduled to work on Saturday (the day I did my field...