Department of English Language and Literature
Cinematic Discourse & Language
2020-21: 2nd Semester


A/P Ismail S Talib

Time & Teaching Mode

Time: Friday, 9 am - 12 pm
Online: Zoom link will be given at the beginning of the semester

Brief Module Description

This module will introduce students to some of the basic ideas in cinema analysis that have a relationship with some of the concepts of linguistics and discourse analysis. The students will be exposed to a critical assessment of some of the early associations of cinema with linguistics. They will then learn about the approach to cinema as discourse, and of its relationship to the analysis of linguistic discourse. It is hoped that eventually, students will not only attain a better understanding of cinematic discourse, but also, of the concept of discourse in general.

Aims and Objectives

The linkage of film with linguistic concepts has a long history, from the Russian Formalists, and through the Czech and French Structuralists. Students will be introduced to some of these attempts, but they should also adopt a critical attitude towards them. In addition, they will develop more viable theoretical ideas of cinematic discourse, which can be used for the holistic analysis of films. This will be done either in relation to, or independent from, theories of discourse in language. It is hoped that students will eventually attain a wider understanding of the notion of discourse in non-linguistic or semi-linguistic domains, and of the concept of discourse in general, and this will enrich their understanding of discourse in language.

Teaching Mode

This module will be taught online, via Zoom. The lecture notes are available online; the links to the notes for each lecture can be found on the programme page. All assignments should be submmitted electronically, via LumiNUS (or by other means [e.g. by shared electronic folder] if the files are too large).


Some of the topics to be covered will be selected from the following list:

  1. Discourse, Style and Narrative in Cinema
  2. Discoursal and Cinematic Audiences
  3. The Nature and Limits of Narrative in Cinema
  4. Cinema and Language: A Critical Look
  5. Language and Cinema Studies: The Semiotic and Discoursal Connections
  6. Stasis in Motion: Understanding Cinematic Space
  7. Cinematic Genres and (Cross-)Generic Connections
  8. Cinematic Authorship
  9. Cinematic Acting and Characterisation
  10. Cinematic Events
  11. Cinematic Narration
  12. Cinematic Presentation of Perspective, and of Speech & Thought

For the likely arrangement of the above topics during the semester, refer to the programme.


The table below will be amended at the beginning of the semester.

Types of Assessment Frequency Percentage
Project: One-off 25%
Electronic Participation: Depends on individual contributors 20%
Class Participation & Quizzes: Depends on attendance and individual contributions 25%
Essay: One-off 30%
Total:   100%

Session Format

The module will be taught completely online. There will be one three-hour session per week. All the sessions are highly interactive. You are expected to participate actively in each session. 

Basic Reading List

Studies & Textbooks

Note: You should treat your web-notes, which are closely coordinated with your lecture topics (see the module schedule) as your main readings. As far as print materials are concerned, there is no ‘compulsory’ reading per se. Of all the books below, Bordwell’s 1985 book is highly recommended, because it is a classic textbook which deals with many, but not all, of the issues to be taught and discussed in the module. Bordwell's 2008 book also covers a lot of the ground for this module, but not as much as his earlier book, and what is covered is usually at a more advanced level. However, the latter book is more up-to-date, and some of its references are to more recent films. Metz's book is important, but it is an original work, not a textbook, and some of his views need to be filtered through later ideas or criticisms, some of which are provided by Bordwell and other scholars below. In addition to your web-notes, the recommended readings for each lecture are given in a separate document.

Bateman, John and Karl-Heinrich Schmidt Multimodal Film Analysis: How Films Mean Nes York: Routledge, 2012

*Bordwell, David Narration in the Fiction Film London: Methuen, 1985.

Bordwell, David Poetics of Cinema London: Routledge, 2008.

Buckland, Warren The Cognitive Semiotics of Film Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Caughie, John Theories of Authorship: A Reader London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981.

Ehrat, Johannes Cinema and Semiotic: Peirce and Film Aesthetics, Narration and Representation Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 2005.

Heath, Stephen Questions of Cinema Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.

Metz, Christian Language and Cinema Trans. Donna Jean Umiker-Sebeok, The Hague: Mouton, 1974.

Wexman, Virginia Wright (ed) Film and Authorship New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003.

Wojcik, Pamela Robertson (ed) Movie Acting, the Film Reader London: Routledge, 2004.

(Bold characters indicate that the soft copies of the books are available online from the NUS Library).

Cinematic Texts

A list of films referred to in the lecture are given in a separate document.

Useful Webpage

You may find Chapter 11 of my web-book, Narrative Theory useful, as it summarises some of the important issues discussed in this module. You may also find the hypertext links found in this chapter quite handy, as they give you further information on some of the details found in the chapter.

Workload Per Week

Seminar hours per week: 3
No. of hours per week for projects and assignments: 4
No. of hours per week for preparatory work: 3
Total hours per week: 10


NB1: The site is being constantly revised for the 2020/21 academic year.

Last revised: 16 February 2021.