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LINGUIST List 24.1049

Thu Feb 28 2013

Review: Discourse Analysis; Semantics: Orna-Montesinos (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>

Date: 17-Dec-2012
From: Filippo Pecorari <filpecalice.it>
Subject: Constructing Professional Discourse
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-3505.html

AUTHOR: Concepción Orna-Montesinos
TITLE: Constructing Professional Discourse
SUBTITLE: A Multiperspective Approach to Domain-Specific Discourses
PUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Filippo Pecorari, Università degli Studi di Pavia

This book’s main aim is the analysis of professional discourse, with
particular reference to the genre of construction engineering textbooks,
conducted from different theoretic approaches. The importance of the concept
'building' for the construction engineering community is highlighted in the
three main chapters, as well as the key role of language in the social context
under examination. The book draws on the author’s previous work, with a focus
on different aspects of the construction discipline (cf. Orna-Montesinos 2008,
2010a, 2010b, 2011), and is divided into five chapters: Chapter 1 provides an
introduction, Chapters 2-4 form the bulk of the volume and Chapter 5 gives a
global view on professional discourse in light of the proposed analyses.

In Chapter 1 (pp. 1-15), the author presents the book’s general framework,
starting from Bhatia's (2002) model of the socio-cognitive domain of writing:
language use is seen as being made up of ''interconnected spheres in which
social practices, genres and texts contribute to the construction of
discourse'' (p. 4). This tripartite view of the writing process is reflected
in the organization of Chapters 2-4, which respectively deal with discourse as
genre, as text and as socio-professional practice.

The perspective adopted is a socio-constructionist one: social context and
professional culture exert a major influence on the creation of texts and,
above all, on the use of genres. In genre studies, an ethnographic analysis of
the professional context is advocated, along with a textual one, to capture
the influence of socio-cultural and professional practices (i.e. text-external
features) on text-internal features, in the wake of Bhatia (2004). The main
theoretical framework here adopted is English for Specific Purposes (ESP)
genre theory, which stresses ''the social purposefulness of the genre'' (p.
3); semantic theory, ontology engineering and discourse analysis provide the
other main theoretical postulates. The adoption of an approach that nurtures
from different disciplines is required by the complex multidimensional
character of professional writing.

Construction engineering textbooks are analyzed with a ''bottom-up approach''
(p. 12), from the text to the context, with the aims of ''explor[ing] how the
members of the construction engineering community both construct and interpret
textbooks'' and ''understand[ing] what 'building' means for this particular
community'' (pp. 12-13).

Chapter 2 (pp. 17-51) treats two specialized corpora and is divided into two
main parts: in the first, a quantitative lexical analysis is conducted, while
in the second corpus data are exploited to capture generic implications in
discourse. The author analyzes two self-compiled corpora, with two different
sources of data: the Construction Textbooks Corpus (CTC) is compiled with
sample textbooks from architecture, construction and civil engineering, made
up of 1,015,396 words; the smaller Construction Textbook Blurbs Corpus (CTBC)
collects blurbs of construction textbooks, with a total of 82,497 words. Both
are taken from websites of book publishers.

The first quantitative data gathered by the author concerns the parameters of
lexical density and frequency in the CTC: textbooks have a very high lexical
density, since they are ''much more informational in focus than other
registers'' (p. 21), and the most frequent content words of the corpus are
discipline-related ones (e.g. 'building', 'design', 'construction'), central
in the development of disciplinary knowledge. The author goes on to identify
the key words in the corpus, i.e. the words ''whose frequency is unusually
high in comparison with some norm'' (p. 25), by comparing the CTC with the
British National Corpus: once again, discipline-specific lexis is prevalent.
Finally, the author examines the formal profile of the lemma 'build': it is
more common as a noun than as a verb, in agreement with the high occurrence of
nominalization in scientific genres. The high frequency and the status of most
common key word ''justify the extended analysis of the semantic profile of the
noun 'building' as well as a functional analysis of the concept'' (p. 29),
which are the main topics of the following sections of the volume.

The second part of the chapter deals with generic implications in discourse,
applying the moves and steps model of Swales (1990) to the CTBC. The analysis
of the blurbs corpus helps to understand the communicative purposes of the
textbook genre. The four main moves found in the blurbs are authorship,
readership, presentation and promotion of the book. The first two moves
illustrate the hybrid nature of the textbook, which bridges the gap between
academia and the profession: textbooks are written not only by scholars, but
also by architects and other professionals, and almost the three fourths of
the books are addressed to a mixed readership of students and professionals.
The presentation and promotion moves are tightly intertwined: through the use
of evaluative lexis or links to disciplinary value, the blurbs aim at
advertising the books to the widest audience. Particular stress is laid on the
multidimensional disciplinary knowledge provided by the textbook: the author
advocates for a multifaceted view of professional identity, made up of
professional skills and domain-specific communicative conventions, and the
textbook is seen as the main instrument able to build this complex expertise.

The analysis ends with a proposal for a reconceptualization of the textbook
genre: it is not only ''a summary of received disciplinary knowledge'', but
also a fundamental instrument for ''acculturating the reader into the
epistemology of the discipline and conversely transmitting how the authors
conceive the scope of the profession'' (p. 39). The new label proposed by
Orna-Montesinos is ''specialized book'' (p. 49).

Chapter 3 (pp. 53-119) explores the semantic profile of the concept 'building'
in the CTC from two perspectives: the first section deals with lexical
relations and lexico-grammatical patterns, while the second enquires into the
lexical contribute to cohesion and rhetorical aspects of discourse. The
concept is the sharing of a disciplinary vocabulary among the members of a
professional community, in terms of lexical relations and rhetorical features.

The author starts out by selecting one of the four senses of 'building'
provided by WordNet as the most common in the CTC, i.e. 'constructed edifice'.
The corpus also displays some other meanings, not covered by the database. The
analysis of semantic relations is limited to hyponymy and meronymy. Hyponyms
satisfy a need for specificity, which is peculiar of professional discourse:
the 132 hyponyms of 'building' employed in the CTC cover five levels of
hyponymy. Prototype theory and text-external factors are advocated to explain
the high frequency in the corpus of entities such as houses and places of
worship, with their hyponyms. The analysis of meronyms is conducted by looking
at the first level of meronymy of 'building' and at the three sub-levels of
hyponymy of the meronyms. All meronyms belong to the category of functional
components of the building. The frequency of occurrence of meronyms is higher
than that of hyponyms, thus showing that, in the textbook genre, parts of
buildings require a more detailed description than types of buildings. The
author goes on to study the lexico-grammatical patterns which mark hyponymy
and meronymy relations, seen as a basic component of disciplinary lexical
knowledge. As far as hyponymy is concerned, the pattern 'such (as)' is the
most frequent, while meronymy is most frequently realized by a more implicit
'Noun Phrase (NP) + Prepositional Phrase (PP)' pattern. The first section of
the chapter ends with some observations about limitations of lexical
databases: many domain-specific terms, both hyponyms and meronyms of
'building', are missing. These limitations call for further lexical research
on professional domains.

The second section begins by considering the cohesive role of lexical
relations in texts: different strategies (e.g. synonyms, hypernyms, general
nouns) contribute to the development of texture through the construction of a
network of cohesive ties. The bulk of the section is devoted to an analysis of
the rhetorical functions employed in the CTC. Particular emphasis is put on
the function of 'classification', which greatly exploits hyponymy relations:
the result of this rhetorical strategy is the establishment of a taxonomy,
which is one of the most important generic conventions that learners need to
master. Meronymy relations, on the other hand, mainly help writers to realise
the function of 'description', since the components of the building are
essential to a precise characterization of it. Finally, the author deals with
patterns of textual development, with focus on General-Particular relations
and lexical patterns used therein. This rhetorical technique has a basic role
in specialized writing, since generalizations are one of the main instruments
of scientific discourse.

Chapter 4 (pp. 121-168) aims to grasp how disciplinary knowledge is embedded
in text-internal features. The author adopts a discourse semantics framework
to analyze the noun 'building' and its co-text, with the goal of ''enquir[ing]
into the way the members of the construction profession create and transmit a
shared value system'' (p. 124).

First, an analysis of the NPs in which 'building' has the role of head or
modifier is conducted. Data from the CTC show that, when 'building' is the
head noun of an NP, it is more frequently pre-modified than post-modified, and
the most frequent modifiers are by far adjectives, followed by nouns and PPs.
On the other hand, the most frequent occurrences of 'building' as a modifier
are in combination with PPs. Some of these patterns are vehicles of lexical
density, which is a basic feature of scientific discourse. Informationally
dense patterns run against pedagogical concerns of textbooks, since they might
rely on a specialized knowledge not always shared by neophytes, thus requiring
a high cognitive effort to be decoded.

In the second part, the author conducts a more detailed semantic
classification of the modifiers of 'building' and deals with the creation of
disciplinary value by means of these linguistic items. Modifiers are divided
into three categories, adapted from Biber et al.'s (1999) classification of
adjectives: descriptors, identifiers and rhetorical modifiers. 71.15% of the
instances belong to the category of descriptors, thus showing that description
of buildings plays an essential role in ''transmit[ting] the aesthetic and
functional value of the building'' (p. 137). Identifiers and descriptors are
then divided into smaller categories, according to their purpose (e.g.
topical, appearance).

Value creation in disciplinary writing is tackled from two perspectives: the
construction of the image of the building and of the discipline. For
buildings, the author first takes into account definition and description in
the CTC, while a bigger part is devoted to evaluative aspects, which make a
major contribution to the disciplinary image of the building. The framework of
evaluation analysis is the view of language as an ideology (cf. Kress & Hodge
1979), according to which texts are mainly social products, reflecting the
ideology of the disciplinary community who writes them. Evaluation, in this
framework, fulfils the basic social function of ''constructing the specific
disciplinary voice of a community'' (p. 150). Evaluation is conveyed in the
corpus by explicit value-laden words and co-textual implications. The main
evaluation criterion for a building is the comparison with other buildings
valued as good by the community. A final section deals with the presence of
metaphors in construction engineering discourse: metaphor is ''a key resource
in facilitating comprehension in textbooks'' (p. 158) and it might be based on
discipline-specific connotations (e.g. the adjective 'green' in the
construction domain). The author finally deals with the construction of the
image of the discipline, mainly through the perspective of rhetorical
patterns. One of the main organizational patterns of the CTC is
Problem-Solution and this prevalence is explained by making reference to
text-external factors: the discipline is often considered as an applied
problem-solving profession, concerned with design of new buildings and
conservation of old ones. Some examples are presented in which patterns
connected to Problem-Solution are associated with the use of descriptive
modifiers of the noun 'building' (e.g. 'historic', 'adapted').

Chapter 5 (pp. 169-180) summarizes the main results. The focus on
relationships between text-external and text-internal features is reflected in
many remarks: lexical choices and discourse organizing patterns are strongly
constrained by disciplinary conventions and, conversely, contribute to the
creation and transmission of disciplinary knowledge. The analysis of the
textbook genre has brought to the fore its role both in ''content
acculturation'' and in ''generic acculturation'' (p. 180) of the novices.

The appendices (pp. 181-212) list the sources of the samples which compose the
CTC (Appendix A) and of the blurbs collected in the CTBC (Appendix B), provide
a WordTree of the hyponyms (Appendix C) and meronyms (Appendix D) of
'building' with frequency of occurrence in the CTC and, finally, examples and
frequency of occurrence of the lexico-grammatical patterns of the hyponyms
(Appendix E) and meronyms (Appendix F) of 'building'.

The book achieves its goal of showing the strict interdependence between
text-internal and text-external features of professional discourse, using
ample examples and tables with quantitative data. Moreover, the appendices
contribute to the clarification of the methodological side of the work,
especially of the sections with a stronger quantitative flavour.

The choice of construction engineering textbooks as case study serves the
general purposes of the volume: the view of this genre as a form of ''social
action'' (Miller 1984) and ''situated cognition'' (Berkenkotter & Huckin 1995)
is made clear and confirmed by research findings.

One of the author’s main merits is the strong commitment to domain-specific
disciplinary culture: several points underline the importance of adopting a
narrow point of view, rather than running the risk of over-generalization. The
book recognises that the linguistic construction of knowledge (through, for
example, rhetorical strategies and evaluative resources) is different across
disciplinary discourses and linguistic differences are constrained by
epistemological and ideological ones.

The book fits well into the genre studies which stress the social dimension of
genres. In particular, the organisation of chapters owes much to Bhatia's
(2002) model of genre analysis and to the highlighting of generic, textual and
socio-pragmatic aspects in discoursal practices. The multiperspective approach
adopted by Orna-Montesinos might be seen as the ideal applied counterpart of
this model.

The main drawback is the number of typographical errors, sometimes apparently
due to careless copying-pasting, which make some sections difficult to read;
in particular, two long paragraphs of Chapter 1 (pp. 39-41) are replicated
word-for-word latter in the chapter (pp. 48-49). A minor shortcoming is the
episodic absence of cross-reference between tables and text: for example,
Table 2-13 (p. 41) is not explicitly linked to a section of the text and its
numerous sub-categories and occurrences are not clearly commented on either.

The book opens two main avenues for future research. On the one hand, the
application of the multiperspective approach to other disciplinary domains and
genres could enrich the results of the study; in particular, some work should
be done on domains with different generic and linguistic features (e.g.
humanities), in which there are abstract key words, possibly requiring a
different semantic approach from the one adopted with 'building'. On the other
hand, the author explicitly recognises the need for enhancement of
computational lexicons with domain-specific information (pp. 94-99): the
acquisition of meaning from specialized texts through manual analysis could
provide new data to lexical databases, helping achieve the goals of
computational applications.

Berkenkotter, Carol & Thomas N. Huckin. 1995. Genre knowledge in disciplinary
communication. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Bhatia, Vijay K. 2002. Applied genre analysis: A multi-perspective model.
Ibérica 4. 3-19.

Bhatia, Vijay K. 2004. Worlds of written discourse: A genre-based view.
London-New York: Continuum.

Biber, Douglas, Stig Johansson, Geoffrey Leech, Susan Conrad & Edward Finegan.
1999. Longman grammar of spoken and written English. Harlow: Longman.

Kress, Gunther & Robert Hodge. 1979. Language as ideology. London: Routledge.

Miller, Carolyn R. 1984. Genre as social action. Quarterly Journal of Speech
70(2). 151-167.

Orna-Montesinos, Concepción. 2008. A contribution to the lexis of construction
engineering textbooks: The case of 'building' and 'construction'. Ibérica 16.

Orna-Montesinos, Concepción. 2010a. Hyponymy relations in construction
textbooks: A corpus-based analysis. In Maria-Lluisa Gea-Valor, Isabel
García-Izquierdo & Maria-José Esteve (eds.). Linguistic and translation
studies in scientific communication. Bern: Peter Lang. 91-114.

Orna-Montesinos, Concepción. 2010b. The building: The problem-solving product
of the construction discipline. Revista de Lenguas para Fines Específicos
15-16. 159-182.

Orna-Montesinos, Concepción. 2011. Words and patterns: Lexico-grammatical
patterns and semantic relations in domain-specific discourses. Revista
Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses 24. 213-233.

Swales, John M. 1990. Genre analysis. English in academic and research
settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Filippo Pecorari is a Ph.D. student at the University of Pavia (Italy). He is
currently working on a thesis about textual aspects of event anaphora in
written Italian, with particular attention to news stories. He earned his M.A.
in Linguistics at the University of Pavia in 2011, with a thesis about the
elaboration of an annotation scheme for event anaphora. His research interests
are mainly focused around textual linguistics, semantics, pragmatics and
computational linguistics.
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