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Review of  Researching Specialized Languages

Reviewer: Laura Dubcovsky
Book Title: Researching Specialized Languages
Book Author: Vijay K. Bhatia Purificación Sánchez Hernández Pascual Pérez-Paredes
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Forensic Linguistics
Issue Number: 23.1382

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EDITORS: Bhatia, Vijay, Sánchez Hernández, Purificación and Pérez-Paredes, Pascual
TITLE: Researching Specialized Languages
SERIES TITLE : Studies in Corpus Linguistics 47
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2011

Laura Dubcovsky, School of Education, University of California, Davis, CA, USA

This collection shows the current status of Language for Specific Purposes
(LSP), which is both independent as discipline in itself -- with its own
research agenda, methodology and applications-- and multidisciplinary, drawing
from and serving other related disciplines. The volume is divided into two
sections: the former encompasses a broad range of corpora-based LSP studies, and
the latter focuses on meta-analyses on methodology and/or its application in the
field of LSP. Section one encompasses the following six articles:

“The Historical Shift of Scientific Academic Prose In English Towards Less
Explicit Styles of Expression: Writing Without Verbs,” by Douglas Biber and
Bethany Gray. The authors characterize the professional written language,
following two distinctive features of oral and written language: elaboration and
explicitness in texts. Drawing from medicine, education, psychology and history
corpora, Biber and Gray identify and non-clausal modifiers embedded in nominal
phrases as key features in academic discourse. These phrases offer a simpler
syntax, but encompass a less explicit meaning relationship to the head noun. In
contrast, oral language has longer clauses that bring more elaborated structure
and can specify the exact meaning relationship. The authors conclude that the
complexities of oral and written languages consist of different features.

Carmen Pérez-Llantada Auría writes “Heteroglossic (Dis) Engagement And The
Construal of the Ideal Readerships: Dialogic Spaces In Academic Texts.” The
author examines the degrees of attachment to or detachment from the audience in
biomedical research articles through four lexical-grammatical patterns in
publications in English, written by Anglo speakers and by Spanish speakers, and
in articles in Spanish written by Spanish writers. While both “dialogically
contractive” patterns (“we-subject” and “anticipatory it”) and “dialogically
expansive” patterns (inanimate subject and passive constructions) are overall
used across sections, there are evident functional differences between groups,
when accompanied by other linguistic features. Anglo writers are able to create
a higher level of collegiality between writer and reader and strengthen an
assertive attitude in the text tone, while Spanish writers choose features that
mitigate the self promotional intentions in their Spanish texts. Finally, texts
written in English by the Spanish scholars combine “heteroglossic disengagement”
and “heteroglossic engagement” modes (White 2003), creating a hybrid space that
closes down and opens up the dialogue with the reader.

The article by Sara Gesuato, “Structure, Content And Functions Of Calls For
Conference Abstracts” analyses these texts from a pragmatic perspective, as
communicative acts of inviting the audience to participate. The author develops
a bottom-up system with three main coding categories, based on a corpus of one
hundred texts taken from four academic disciplines. She describes sixteen move
types that accompany the main categories, gives examples and detailed tables to
support her case. Results from her analysis show that there are more
similarities in distribution and frequency between Biology and Computing, and
between History and Linguistics. Yet the author finds that a similar sequence
represents different functions in the internal moves of announcements, offers,
and orders. Therefore Calls for Conference Abstracts represent complex texts
that do not instantiate an identical text type or structure potential. Gesuato
highlights that better understanding of this less explored genre would
contribute to establishing and sharing common standards, practices, and
viewpoints among participants. Finally she points out limitations of her study,
including sampling, the interrelated scoring, and lack of multi-analysis.

The fourth article, “Summarizing Findings: An All-Pervasive Move In Open Access
Biomedical Research Articles Involves Rephrasing Strategies” by Mercedes
Jaime-Sisó, focuses on the reading behavior of online articles. Embracing the
view that genres are communicative acts, with real purposes and audiences, and
situated in cultural contexts, the author uses a multi-dimensional analysis of
social, professional, and textual layers. She interviews faculty members from
biomedical and related departments, and uses a small corpus of research
articles. Results reveal that scholars use reading patterns that depart from the
linear sequence, and that they prefer to scan the table contents, read
abstracts, and look at tables, figures and legends, mostly skipping the
introduction and methodology sections. These parts usually function as
micro-texts that summarize main results and conclusion, with links to access
individual sections and frequent repetitions of the findings throughout the
paper. Jaime-Sisó suggests that these economical strategies will contribute to
teaching academic English in the online era of scholarly publishing. She
recommends that academic English courses include practice with summaries,
rephrasing techniques, and clarity of message, avoiding informal and/or
ambiguous language.

Pascual Pérez-Paredes, Purificación Sanchez Hernández, and Pilar Aguado Jiménez
write “The Use Of Adverbial Edges In EAP Students’ Oral Performance.” Based on
the notion that hedging is a signal of advanced linguistic competence, the
authors compare adverbial hedges as used by English learners and among native
speakers in oral performance, which has been less explored than hedging in
written corpora. Pérez-Paredes et al. interview 59 Spanish native speakers
studying English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and 28 English native students of
Modern Languages (ML). They also follow the Louvain International Database of
Spoken English Interlanguage Corpus (De Cock 1998) that consists of a topic for
discussion, a brief interpersonal communication, and a retelling of a story
illustrated in four pictures. Results show that overall the two groups use the
adverbial hedges in interpersonal conversations and personal experiences, more
than in the description of factual information. However, Spanish speakers of
English present a narrower use and specific preferences among these adverbial
hedges. The authors expand on pedagogical implications for teaching hedges and
other stance strategies to non-native speakers.

In the sixth article, “Integrating Approaches To Visual Data Commentary: An
Exploratory Case Study,” Carmen Sancho Guinda brings multimodal genres to the
field of English for specialized disciplines. She claims that graphic
information processing has relevant and ubiquitous roles in academic, scientific
and technical discourses. Following a situated perspective on genre, the author
examines two tasks carried out by 57 Aeronautical Engineering students from
Madrid with intermediate level proficiency in English. Drawing from systemic
functional linguistics (SFL) her analysis reveals that students use few
meta-discursive and presentational constructions and that they prefer instead
compensatory tactics, such as using common-core and pre- modified superordinate
nouns, and collocational interference from their first language. Sancho Guinda
provides a tentative teaching inventory, following SFL ideational,
interpersonal, and textual metafunctions. Finally she points out the need for
explicit teaching of meta-discursive items and presentational structures, which
are specific skills for interpretive commentaries.

Section 2 is devoted to research based on meta-analysis and applications in LSP,
with five articles. In “Some Dichotomies In Genre Analysis For Languages For
Specific Purposes,” John Flowerdew define genres as staged and structured
events, motivated by various communicative purposes, and performed by members of
specific discourse communities. He examines a reasonably large corpus, with
related literature and a wide range of examples to identify four relevant
dichotomies, with the purpose of enhancing the productivity of genre theory and
contributing to the LSP literature. The first dichotomy is based on genre as
individual or networks, which is broader and facilitates the comparison of
similarities and differences of structural moves and patterns across a
particular field. The second dichotomy presents written versus spoken genres.
While the former has been well studied, Flowerdew focuses on spoken genre
studies, both in informal conversational and formal academic presentations and
lectures. The third dichotomy represents the tension between macro
(situation/context) and micro (linguistic features) levels of analysis, both
needed to better interpret the genre. The fourth dichotomy shows that genre
analysis typically focuses more on structural moves than lexico-grammatical

The second article, “English For Legal Purposes And Domain-Specific Cultural
Awareness: The 'Continental Paradox,' Definition, Causes And Evolution” by
Shaeda Isani, describes the knowledge and misconceptions of the legal system in
Europe (mainly France, Germany, and Spain), which she characterizes as a
“continental paradox,” because people do not ignore the system but prefer to
substitute the American legal system for it. The study aims to promote greater
awareness of the target legal culture. Isani describes the specific domain of
the legal culture, following areas of knowledge, behavior and organization. She
also gives examples of correct and incorrect uses of legal terms in France, and
relates them to media, academic and didactic reasons. The author describes a
three-phase sequence of “vacuum,” originated in the hermetic status and
remoteness of European law institutions and professionals, “exposure,” by which
the lay public adopts the first legal culture it is exposed to, and
“appropriation” of the legal system.

Gillian Diane Lazar’s “The Talking Cure: From Narrative To Academic Argument”
highlights psychological benefits of using oral narratives to help university
English learners in the UK to write academic papers. She considers typical
distinctions between narrative and academic arguments, and overlaps them in
texts required at the university level. The author takes narratives from
different fields and languages, such as an Urdu/English trainee teacher, and a
Portuguese/English product designer as the starting point to draw on features
that may be later exploited to develop other academic genres. To support the
point that narrative components can be used in academic texts, Lazar follows the
narrative stages as headings of her own article. Finally she suggests steps to
move from personal narratives to reflective arguments, such as tutor/student
conversations, peer interactions or triangulations, drafts and annotations,
models for analysis and discussion, and collaboration between writing tutors and
subject specialists.

Kris Buyse, Eva Saver, An Laffut, and Herlinda Vekemans present “UrgentiAS, A
Lexical Database For Medical Students In Clinical Placements.” The authors
propose an online multilingual lexicon of specific terms for medicine,
especially useful for doctors abroad. To achieve this goal, Buyse et al. study
100 undergraduate Dutch-speaking Belgian students of medicine in Leuven. The
authors realize that most mandatory medical language courses provide students
with word-by-word memorization, leaving out communicative aspects of
doctor/patient verbal interactions. Therefore, they attempt to create a lexicon
tool that addresses not only the knowledge of medical vocabulary, but also
communicative skills, so that doctors and related health professionals can
establish a confident relationship with their patients.
The final product is based on an open, synchronic, multilingual corpus, and
varied medical text types, such as ER nurses’ reports, research articles,
clinical cases and diagnoses. It has a blended setting of face-to face and
online learning. The authors present vocabulary in comprehensive context, with
definitions, translations, grammatical information, usage notes, geographical
variants, acronyms, and pronunciation. They especially recommend repetitions and
frequent encounters with the new word, emphasizing incidental and explicitly
taught vocabulary, and placing words in semantic and syntactic contexts.

The last article of section 2 is “Using Natural Language Patterns For The
Development Of Ontologies,” by Elena Montiel-Ponsoda and Guadalupe Aguado de
Cea. The authors follow notions and terminology from computational linguistics
and knowledge engineering to develop ontologies in natural languages and create
a repository of lexico-syntactic patterns, which may help students in the
transmission and mapping of knowledge. They first exemplify the five components
of ontology -- type, attributes, relation, instance and axiom -- through a
cartoon character. Then they explain potential uses of ontologies based on
natural language patterns, such as lexicon building, specialized dictionaries,
and quick retrieval of background knowledge of certain fields, especially useful
for translators and interpreters. Although the authors recognize that
idiosyncratic characteristics of ambiguity and disjointedness in natural
languages are limitations, they are particularly interested in ontologies that
may open up new areas in language teaching. They would facilitate the teaching
of classifications and taxonomies, needed in academic settings, as well as
awareness of lexical, syntactic and semantic features. Especially useful for
non-native learners, ontologies would present models of conceptual maps, joining
specialized domains and technical language.

This book is a careful attempt to promote and develop the research of LSP. The
editors have achieved their goals by showing various fields of expertise to
researchers, practitioners and students interested in the understanding of
specialized languages, including those who deal with English learners in
academics and/or specific disciplines. The eleven articles are joined by the
common purpose of LSP as a discipline, but they are different in nature, goals,
and specificity. Within this broad spectrum, it is sometimes difficult to focus
on one particular audience. On the one hand, there are some foundational
chapters, necessary for any novice, such as the first paper in each section. On
the other hand, some papers address more specific audiences, either because the
focus is very narrow -- such as the examination of calls for conference
abstracts --, or because the author uses highly technical terminology that
requires previous topic initiation, such as the analysis on intersubjectivity in
academic texts.

The book also encompasses a broad range of interpretations of specialized
languages. Generally speaking, the articles are solidly grounded, either
because they triangulate date, or use multiple layers of analysis, or have a
clear theoretical framework. Above all, this diverse collection opens up
possibilities for future research on specialized languages. Among the possible
directions, the current readings suggest a need for deeper examination of the
nature and functions of different specialized languages, larger data collection
to gain more empirical evidence, solid tools of analysis to better interpret the
growing field of LSP, and more explicit educational strategies to provide
teachers of related courses with pedagogical tools. The future path for LSP
looks promising, with an increasingly coherent body of knowledge and stronger
interdisciplinary relationships.

De Cock, S. (1998). Corpora of learner speech and writing and ELT. Paper
presented at the Germanic and Baltic Linguistic Studies and Translation:
Proceedings of the International Conference held at the University of Vilnius.

White, P.R.R. (2003). Beyond modality and hedging: A dialogic view of the
language of intersubjectivity stance. Text, 23(2), 259-284.

Laura Dubcovsky is a lecturer and supervisor in the teacher education program from UC Davis. She has a Master’s in Education and a PhD in Spanish Linguistics with special emphasis on second language acquisition. Her areas of interest combine the field of language and education. She is dedicated to the preparation of prospective Spanish/English teachers, and has presented the preparation course in different forums. She analyzes linguistic features of both bilingual teachers and children, from a Systemic Functional Language approach, as in her 2008 “Functions of the verb decir ('to say') in the incipient academic Spanish writing of bilingual children” in Functions of Language, 15(2), 257-280.