Discourse Conventions Boost Ability to Win a Canoe Competition

Blog » Discourse Conventions Boost Ability to Win a Canoe Competition

Posted on 12 Apr 2013 12:40

Yipeng Luan


As concrete canoe competition becomes popular and challenging around the world today, the canoe club at CCNY is also moving forward to have a place in the field of international canoe competitions. A discourse community is a group that has shared goals and purposes, and members use communication to achieve their goals. This report describes the technical effort of the concrete canoe club, which is a discourse community at CCNY, to race and win the matches. The report includes procedures of building and design of the canoe, materials, an integrated testing system, and race requirement. I interviewed with James Kang, who was a member of the group in 2011, and my advisor Tang for suggestions. Meanwhile, the conflicts and hierarchy played important roles for the community. Both of them gave the group motivation and convention to struggle for the research. The canoe club at CCNY is not only very well known by its students but also by other universities all over the country. It is an attractive student activity and thus, the department will expand to accommodate more faculty members to illuminate and share their knowledge.


Founded in 1970s, the concrete canoe club at CCNY is one of the most competitive and famous group in the “National Canoe Competitions.” The canoe club now has much activity and success due to the history. Building a canoe is a complicated and dangerous process that contains many mechanical knowledge and civil engineering skills. On the other hand, the concrete canoe club can help each individuals practice and verify his or her ability. People can learn and enjoy the research experience from the procedure. A niche I found is the benefit of the conflicts. My study will give specific example to indicate the merit of conflicts among group members. As the canoe competitions become more and more famous and attractive, the concrete canoe club at CCNY is also more reputed and powerful.

Defined by John Swales, discourse communities are “Groups that have goals or purposes, and use communication to achieve these goals (Swales, pg 466).” So far, I have read several pieces about the discourse community such as “The Concept of Discourse Community,” by John Swales, “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics- Introduction,” by James Gee and “‘Why be Normal?’ Language and Identity Practices in a Community of Nerd Girls.” by Mary Bucholtz. All of these authors discussed different aspect of discourse community. The reason people always study discourse community because it is everywhere around us. Understanding a discourse community does not only helps us behave in a community but also teach us to recognize the difference between discourse community and speech community. The most common and impressed piece should be Swales’; he listed six characteristics of discourse community. The other helpful piece to me is Bucholtz’s piece. While Swales define the discourse community, Bucholtz tried to stress the importance of experience and the identity of each member in the group. She was focused on community practice instead of defining discourse community. Both of Swales and Bucholtz have something in common with my project. All of these pieces revealed the definition and the aspect of the discourse community such as the shared goals and how members achieve their goals.


My methodology is to gather a wide realm of information about the club. The most useful resource is the member of the group. One of my friends was in the canoe club and they won the champion in 2011.The interview with him is definitely helpful that can offer me specific information of the procedure. I can also gather information and opinions from websites. The website of the community at CCNY reveals acquirement and announcement for the non group members. Some affiliated links on the website can also offer diverse information. In addition, I tried to register to join the club which can offer me a chance to experience the research and process. I can also use own knowledge and skills that I’ve learned from my major classes to solve and explain some complicated procedure.

Data Analysis & Results

Every discourse community should have several shared goals which can be considered as the core of the group. It is the essential factor that motivates the group members to struggle to achieve each shared goal. For the concrete canoe club, the shared goal of the group should be that all the members want to fabricate and race a canoe against those from other universities all over the world, and they also want to win the competition on an international stage. Something they care most must be the winning of the competition. A win can bring everyone honor, respect and better comments which are helpful after they graduate. Some other factors they care about may be the experience they can learn skill and ability through the teamwork and communication during the competition. In addition, the website of the club is also a shared goal of the group. The website is actually an announcement which means the canoe club wants to recruit new members to fill in the community. More members mean there will be more contribution and knowledge. Furthermore, joining the group can also give every member a chance to get scholarship; students can make money by producing and researching a canoe. However, the reason this group exists is very simple. It can bring our college reputation and train more civil engineers. For instance, our canoe club won the champion in 2011. CCNY become very famous in canoe realm.

Mechanisms played an imperative role during the process. There are phone calls, text messages, meetings, e-mails, google group, facebook, reports, webcam, leader’s evaluation, and so forth. All of them are very helpful during the communication and each of them has its specific functions and purposes. Phone call is the most common way to communicate with others. It is convenient and fast. Text message is quite similar with phone calls but it is much slower than phone calls. Thus, the members only text or e-mail when they are not convenient to talk. Webcam is the best mechanisms they are using to communicate. Group members always had a video chat when they have obstacles to solve. It is visual and distinct for everyone to speak and see what difficulty is. All of phone calls, text messages, e-mails and webcam have the same purpose which is to improve their performance and to share their confusion or difficulties. The canoe club also established groups on google and facebook to chat with each others. The purpose of using these web groups is to expand their resource and reference. There are huge and infinite information on the internet; therefore, while members were chatting with others, they also skim much information and gain some creative inspirations through facebook. Meeting is a direct way to solve problems. Each time they meet, they would distribute their responsibility and evaluate or test their results. They also shared their research during the meeting and ask others for suggestions as help. Reports and leader’s evaluation are relative. Every member in the group has his or her own reports based on their own realm of the research. Every week, each individual had a small report is due to the leader whose name is Jin. As a result, Jin would evaluate every research report and gave them feedbacks. The purpose of reports and evaluation is to improve performance and give suggestion.

Some mechanisms they used can be considered as genres such as reports, leader’s evaluation, and text messages. Report is a traditional genre which has been used for a long time. All group members deeply know the format and they can recognize and understand each report they give. Evaluation is also a genre but it’s different from reports. It contains suggestion and assessment to the reports. It revises reports to omit useless or irrelative information and leave or stress the important pieces. Text message is a new and modern genre. As a major discourse way, text message has some new and fresh values of genre. It can be typed creatively and the format is always changing. It is well used by everyone and convenient to share opinions. All of these three mechanisms can be considered as genres, and they were used efficiently during each process of the concrete canoe.

Every discourse community has its own lexis or terminology while its group members are communicating with each others. For the members of concrete canoe club, there have massive and complicated specialized languages. Due to the realm of civil engineering, group members prefer professional words that are related with engineering. For instance, “cementatious,” is a word that is used a lot during the experiment. Cementatious is a name of material that reacts with cement to strengthen its binding properties. Actually it is a combination of crushed glass bottles. “ST” is an abbreviation for stress test and “CT” is short for compression test. The canoe needs to be tested after it is produced to make sure its safety and stability. Especially, in Kang’s team, the language they used involved physical terminology such as buoyant force, inertia, IP (intensity of pressure), FOP (force of percussion), equilibrium force, static force and so forth. All of the team members truly understand the meaning of any lexis. Thus, they were used to communicating with these terminologies.

There is a hierarchy of the canoe club. Professor Jin, a 25-year veteran of the concrete industry, is the leader of the group. He has the best expertise and contributes the most every year at CCNY. He came up with the original version of secret formula of the canoe. The secret is actually a concrete formula that incorporates glass from recycled bottles, making the material lighter and shrinking its carbon footprint. In fact, all of the members are newcomers because they will quit after the competition every year. The threshold level is not high and everyone who is majoring civil engineering can have a chance to join the group. Kang was completely a newcomer with less expertise. The first thing he did was to get familiar with others. Then the leader gave the team a brief speech to introduce the rules, basic knowledge, and format of reports or other genres. In addition, every member should have essential knowledge and expertise of civil engineering. They would learn terminology and proper knowledge step by step later from the leader Jin. After a month, almost every member could be old-timers.

Bucholtz’s piece about the nerd girls is an appropriate example to the canoe club. People identify themselves through their positions in every community. The practice of community indicates that experience and identity establish people’s position in a group. There are always conflicts within community. For instance, Kang said that people were arguing about their responsibility of particular process. Some member may want to do the same section but no one wants to make a concession. There were two people did not talk to each other for a week. Sometimes people blamed someone who did not contribute or was lazy. Sum up the reason of conflicts, Kang said it was fairness. Every member wants to be equal instead of giving lazy people a chance. On the other hand, conflicts can also be considered as motivated power. People may contest against someone to prove or raise themselves. For instance, two people in Kang’s group competed with each other and they both improve their performances as a result.

As the research process has a huge quantity of work, some members may not have enough time or energy to finish his or her jobs. Kang was one of them. As a newcomer, he didn’t have much experience and knowledge about the canoe. He suffered a lot at the beginning. Fortunately, he had a good leader in the group. Jin helped and taught him until the end of the research process. Jin was a responsible leader with authority of the community. He gave everyone response and evaluation during each process. The reason Jin has the most authority is that he is a 25-year veteran of concrete industry. In addition, he has the highest degree; he is a professor and has abundant knowledge of engineering. Thus, he is the best person who should have authority to lead the community.

In Bucholtz’s article, the six nerd girls try to be deviant and they identify themselves due to the community they are involved. Thus, people pose them based on their abilities, habits, and hobbies. In the canoe club, members mainly identified themselves due to their abilities and habits. Kang was doing material section. The reason he selected it is he didn’t know how to do the rests and he preferred to be a labor at the beginning of the research. Some others also did in the same way; most people identify themselves based on their abilities. On the other hand, a few also did what the “nerd girls’ did. They didn’t want to be normal and they had the same hobbies or some other favors. Those people did their jobs but they were just not the mainstream. In addition, culture may be a factor of identity. As the English language is used with different cultures and the way of communication is changing due to the new technology, multiliteracy played an important role in every community. The members of canoe club came from 15 different countries, including the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Albania, China, Korean and so forth. It is a multicultural group with diverse background.

Stereotype happens everywhere and in every community. In Kang’s community, there was one person had a strong stereotype in regard to his own knowledge. While the group was choosing the crushed glass as main material, one girl said “disagree” just because she thought glass wouldn’t float on the water until she experienced the test of pressure and buoyant force. Everyone has more or less stereotype in his or her mind based on psychology, and people need to keep subjective and to avoid bias.


There are two observations impressed me. The first one is communication. Group members have a strong desire to talk with each others. They also have their own rules to communicate. They would first try phone calls, or they would use text message. If all of these steps cannot solve the problem, they would use webcam to chat. Kang said “The webcam played an important role.” In addition, people who did not response or omit others’ requests, the leader would talk to them as convention. Another observation is the multiculture. People came from 15 countries and they all cooperated well during the research. The contribution should belong to the leader Jin. He was a great model of multiculture. He first said he was a foreigner and then he let everyone in the group introduce themselves and hug each others. The last and most important observation is conflict. When two people tried to get the same section, Jin gave them both authorities to work on it. At this moment, the conflict became a motivation to improve members’ performance. As a result, they both did great jobs.


In conclusion, the study offers me a chance to get closer to my major. I learned abundant skills through the research such as static force, compression test, usage and comparison of materials. I also found the effect of conflict can be positive and stimulant. In addition, a proper hierarchy is necessary for a community. It gave the group convention and efficient leadership. The procedure of the research is interesting because the cooperation and communication among the members are manifold. It reminds me that communication and cooperation are main factors of a discourse community to achieve their shared goals and purposes.

Work Cited

John Swales, “The Concept of Discourse Community.” 1990.Print.

Mary Bucholtz, “‘Why be Normal?’ Language and Identity Practices in a Community of Nerd Girls.” (April 1999).Print

Jessa Netting, “CCNY Students Conquer Concrete Canoe Contest.”
http://www.ccny.cuny.edu/news/CCNY-Students-Conquer-Concrete-Canoe-Contest.cfm (May 13, 2011)

Esther Dornhelm, “CCNY Concrete Canoe Club.”
http://www1.ccny.cuny.edu/prospective/gsoe/civil/students_canoe.cfm (March, 2013)

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