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Review of  Scientific Discourse and the Rhetoric of Globalization

Reviewer: Damian J. Rivers
Book Title: Scientific Discourse and the Rhetoric of Globalization
Book Author: Carmen Pérez-Llantada
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 25.5049

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Review's Editors: Malgorzata Cavar and Sara Couture


This book attempts to sketch the position of scientific discourse within the complexities of globalization with a theoretical slant aimed toward genre-analysis and contrastive rhetoric in addition to the more expansive domain of sociolinguistics. The author describes the volume as being heavily influenced by the genre work of Miller (1984) and Swales (1990, 2004) and these references are revisited throughout the volume.

Chapter 1, “The role of science rhetoric in the global village,” outlines the thematic orientation of the volume as one with concern for the processes and practices of globalization, language, culture and science in relation to discourse and its multifarious ideological constructions. The author captures the interest of the reader by mapping an array of decisive questions such as “how is the experience of living in a globalizing world affecting contemporary scholarly life?” and “to what extent do knowledge-based economies determine research activities and assess research output?” (p.1). Factors concerning the use of the English by “non-native English speaking scholars” (p.3), particularly when discussed within a sociocultural paradigm, foreground the questions raised and are discussed within this initial chapter at various points. The chapter highlights “the linguistic burden” (p.3) of scholarly participation and communication for scientists and researchers who do not claim English as an L1. Other issues raised include the commodification of scientific knowledge and the forms in which such knowledge is represented and thus assigned value. The overall aim of the volume is cast as aiming to “offer an in-depth examination of today’s scientific rhetoric and discursive practices” through enquiring “into the socio-cultural reasons for the adoption and hybridization processes of the standardized scientific discourse norms” (p.7).

Chapter 2, “Scientific English in the postmodern age,” begins with a description of the interdisciplinary and sophisticated intricacies of contemporary scientific knowledge as a form of cultural and intellectual expression, and perhaps most importantly, scientific knowledge is denoted as a highly valuable economic, political and social commodity. The thrust of this chapter aims to identify the forces reshaping contemporary scientific discourse within what the author describes as a “complex research policy matrix” (p.19). As an example of such, the author points toward “growing institutional pressure to publish in impact-factor (English-language) journals” (p.19) and provides insightful discussion concerning knowledge-intensive economies, bibliometrics, and sources of university research funding in addition to various other domains. More broadly, much of this chapter draws from the work of Fairclough (1993) as it attempts to demonstrate the expansive scope of the “marketization of contemporary scientific discourse” across various fields and contexts (p.19).

Chapter 3, “Problematizing the rhetoric of contemporary science,” neatly follows on from the previous chapter and takes the reader further into phraseological, organizational and rhetorical mechanisms propelling the commoditization and dissemination of scientific knowledge. More specifically, the emphasis is placed upon the ways in which “the use of English for science dissemination reflects rhetorical variation when we compare genres produced by scholars from an Anglophone and a non-Anglophone context” (p.47). The author departs with reference to Kuhn’s (1962) work on persuasion and the “textual acrobatics” (p.47) of sales rhetoric, before revisiting Fairclough’s (1992) work on commodification. The chapter proceeds to offer a contextually-bound taxonomy for framing scientific discourse before discussing the cognitive domain of scientific rhetoric and discourse genre. With reference to the accepted format for the textual dissemination of scientific knowledge, the author highlights how a lack of “adherence to the established ways of arranging information [e.g. the situation-problem-solution-evaluation pattern of presenting scientific discourse in academic publications] might be taken as a pitfall” (p.57).

Chapter 4, “A contrastive rhetoric approach to science dissemination,” draws from work conducted at the University of Zaragoza on the compilation of the Spanish English Research Article Corpus (2008). The author draws upon corpus linguistics and various ethnographic forms of exploration in order to identify the similarities and differences between “scholars in Anglophone and non-Anglophone contexts regarding the linguistic resources, rhetorical traditions and community practices and procedures for interaction in their local research sites” (p.71). The rationale for this chapter is stated as having concern with the “view of cultural models as guiding our language and interactions with others” (p. 72). Empirical data concerning standardized lexicogrammar in scientific dissemination is presented (from English L1, English L2 and Spanish L1 scholars) and thoroughly discussed from a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives. The author notes how “the Spanish scholars retain part of their culture-specific intellectual style when they write in English as an additional language” while also being more sensitive to “criticism and opt for less viable intersubjective stances” than their English L1 counterparts (p.104).

Chapter 5, “Disciplinary practices and procedures within research sites,” complements the previous chapter through a focus on “written discourse produced by scholars from a North-American-based research site and from a non-English-speaking research site” (p.105). This focus is foregrounded by the author’s assertion that “scientific discourse is a socially situated activity” (p.105). The chapter reports on interview-based protocols within a “representative group” (p. 105) of Spanish academics and academics located within a North-American context which aimed, among various other objectives, to reveal attitudes toward contemporary research production in relation to the role of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) in the dissemination of scientific knowledge. The discussion of over 50-hours of interview data is extensive and covers a broad range of related topics including deviations from Anglophone norms in addition to the role of perceptions and attitudes in the role of gate-keeping scientific knowledge.

Chapter 6, “Triangulating procedures, practices and texts in scientific discourse,” is a particularly well-presented chapter focused upon the rhetorical paradigm of science dissemination and the need for a more complex understanding of how “academic tribes and research territories” construct, present and disseminate “new knowledge” (p. 136). The author examines how scientific knowledge production to date has been both uniform, in terms of lexicogrammatical patterns and phraseological unit, and fragmented, in terms of wider interdisciplinary collaboration and an increasing number of co-authored research publications. The chapter examines a wide range of related positions including, the exigencies of globalizing processes, the interplay between science and culture with attention given to the role of English and “language gate-keeping” (p.151), and situated learning within specific scientific communities of practice.

Chapter 7, “ELF and a more complex sociolinguistic landscape,” is focused upon the use of ELF and the processes of “linguistic and cultural blending” (p.164) observable within contemporary scientific knowledge. The author suggests that scientific English, as a functional variety, should be considered as a language of communication rather than as a language of identification, thus allowing “social groupings across academic and research sites [to] surpass nationalisms and cultural identities” (p.165). The chapter explores such possibilities through discussions of plurilingualism, diversification in ELF, language planning, and the creation of alternative geolinguistic spaces. The chapter concludes with a proposed tailor-made course for scientists with limited proficiency in English or with little experience with scientific discourse.

Chapter 8, “Re-defining the rhetoric of science,” outlines numerable global challenges facing contemporary science and scientific discourse dissemination. The author notes how English will retain its “geopolitical and geolinguistic status…at least in the near future” due to the need for a common language for mutual understanding underpinned by the visions and pressures of internationalization within scientific communities of practice (p. 191). The first half of the chapter addresses concepts such as meaning-making configurations, text-internal and text-external features of scientific discourse, notions of genre, genre mixing and genre metaphor. The second half of the chapter looks forward and draws attention to new forms of world scientific interrelatedness, which are mainly realized as calls for an increase in linguistic and cultural sensitivity, and the challenges surrounding increased opportunities for intercultural communication, especially through scientific discourse and discussion within increasingly diverse sites of interaction.


After reading this book, and as testament to its influence, I am compelled to ask myself the following question: according to which (and by whose) pre-determined criteria for legitimate scientific knowledge review should I structure my evaluation? Indeed, as a result of reading this book, the reader is invited to give greater consideration to the mechanics and values discreetly underpinning scientific discourse when produced within certain communities of practice. Overall, this book has various strengths. It is eloquently written and well supported by the research literature. Moreover, each chapter is insightfully detailed and the contents will certainly appeal to researchers and scientific practitioners from a broad list of professional domains.

In contrast to these outstanding aspects, there are a small number of potential areas for future improvements. An immediate question one might ask from reading this book is whether science actually requires a global language? Is there an argument to be heard that resists the pressures for convergence toward a unified global community of scientists? What challenges do researchers face by disseminating scientific knowledge in languages other than English? How could these researchers still acquire the kind of international status and prestige that comes from publishing and presenting in certain places? With consideration to these questions, readers might also find it worthwhile to read, “Does science need a global language?” (Montgomery, 2013).

A further aspect of the book which should have demanded greater attention and scrutiny is the fundamental legitimacy of the “native speaker” / “non-native speaker” bifurcation. Throughout the book, the author warmly accommodates this division without critical reflection or rigorous interrogation despite the warnings of Musha-Doerr (2009) who describes how “certain notions prevail despite their theoretical shortcomings…‘native speaker’ is such a notion…it is based on the idea that there is a bounded, homogeneous, and fixed language with a homogeneous speech community, which is linked to a nation-state” (p.1). Although the author outlines the need for “social groupings across academic and research sites [to] surpass nationalisms and cultural identities” (p. 165), her failure to deconstruct the “native speaker” / “non-native speaker” bifurcation actually works to bind the language competencies of individuals to the nation. One could argue that the identification of individual scientists as “non-native speakers of English” is ultimately an act of false categorization. Finally, the background literature concerning ELF is largely underdeveloped and a great deal of the critical literature in relation to ELF has been omitted (see O’Regan, 2014 for an especially insightful critique). Despite these shortcomings, reading this book was a thoroughly rewarding experience and provided food-for-thought in relation to a number of issues connected to the way in which scientific knowledge is constructed, valued and disseminated with the contemporary global community.


Montgomery, Scott, L. 2013. Does Science Need a Global Language?: English and the Future of Research. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.

Musha-Doerr, Neriko. 2009. The native speaker concept. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter.

O’Regan, John, P. 2014. English as a Lingua Franca: An Immanent Critique. Applied Linguistics, advanced access doi: 10.1093/applin/amt045.
Dr. Damian J. Rivers is an Associate Professor at Future University Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan. His research interests include oppression in educational contexts, language policy rhetoric and the 'native-speaker' criterion. He is editor of Resistance to the Known: Counter-Conduct in Language Education (2014) and co-editor of Native-Speakerism in Japan: Intergroup Dynamics in Foreign Language Education (2013) and Social Identities and Multiple Selves in Foreign Language Education (2013).

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