LINGUIST List 18.363

Fri Feb 02 2007

Review: Discourse Analysis: Ädel (2006)

Editor for this issue: Laura Welcher <>

Directory         1.    Louisa Buckingham, Metadiscourse in L1 and L2 English

Message 1: Metadiscourse in L1 and L2 English
Date: 02-Feb-2007
From: Louisa Buckingham <>
Subject: Metadiscourse in L1 and L2 English

Announced at AUTHOR: Ädel, AnnelieTITLE: Metadiscourse in L1 and L2 English.SERIES: Studies in Corpus Linguistics 24PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2006

Louisa Buckingham, Sabanci University; Universidad de Granada.

This book builds upon the rich existing work on metadiscourse theory andpractice, and, by exploring the application of computer assisted methods tostudies of metadiscourse, it contributes to both our theoretical andpractical appreciation of metadiscourse through empirical research on itsuse by British and US students and Swedish learners of English. Throughstudying its use in argumentative texts (a genre thought to make generoususe of metadiscourse) by Swedish learners of English, and two groups ofnative speakers (British and American), the author identifies howmetadiscourse use varies across British and American English argumentativewriting, and how it is used differently in advanced learner writing. Allessays are derived from the International Corpus of Learner English (ICLE)at the University of Louvain, Belgium.

The acceleration of studies in metadiscourse over the last decades ispossibly partly motivated by the broad issue of developing academic Englishcompetence of NNS for international publication. Foreign language fluencydoes not translate into the ability to manage metadiscourse, and itsinappropriate use in writing leads to perceptions of the text being toodense, difficult to follow, or, alternatively, informal and convoluted.Interestingly, learner metadiscourse is not characterized by error, butrather inappropriateness: underuse or misuse. In light of this, corpusanalysis appears the most satisfactory means of examining metadiscourseuse, as it is the cumulative effect more than individual occurrences thatcharacterize the use of metadiscourse in texts.


Consisting of seven main chapters (plus a conclusion and appendices), theauthor divides the theoretical background between the early chapters andthe final chapter (and the appendices), which enables the reader to movequickly into the main research. The main contributions presented inchapters 2 to 5 comprise discussions on the identity of metadiscourse, andcorpus analyses of frequency and textual distribution.

The introduction encompasses definitions of metadiscourse followed by anoutline of research methods, indicating points of convergence anddivergence with other studies. Metadiscourse seems to constitute a languageuniversal in both written and spoken domains, though there appears to belittle agreement in the literature of its nature or of its genre-specificmanifestations, and few studies have investigated it from across-linguistic perspective.

The second chapter presents a model of metadiscourse based on Jakobson's(1998) functional model of language, unlike previous research based on theHallidayan approach. In her classification of metadiscourse, the authordistinguishes between personal (i.e. the use of personal pronouns and nounsreferring to the writer or reader) and impersonal types of metadiscourse(i.e. the use of passives and impersonal constructions). She identifies thedifferent orientations that it may have: text oriented metadiscourse refersto the current text and its language use ('in this essay', 'in thefollowing'); writer-oriented metadiscourse refers to the writer persona('finally, I would like to discuss the topic'; 'as I stated above');reader-oriented metadiscourse refers to the imagined reader of the text('you may be thinking', 'so you see', 'there were many reasons for'); andfinally, participant-oriented metadiscourse, a mixture of the two previouscategories ('What do we mean by...then?'; 'as we have seen'; 'therefore Iwill give you some sort of background that might have some relevance forhow you picture...').

Ädel's conceptualization of metadiscourse differs from certain previousstudies as she excludes stance markers (expressing, for instance,uncertainty, disagreement, disbelief: 'I am quite convinced', 'I think itis of great importance', 'I am in favour of'), as well as numerousinstances of personal pronouns, due to their reference to the 'real world'as opposed to the text itself. Personal pronouns particularly requirecareful analysis of context to ascertain whether the reader-writerinteraction expressed fulfils a metadiscoursive function, as many instancesrefer to personal experiences outside the text.

As a general point of departure, the features of metadiscourse aredescribed in the following terms: fuzzy category membership (it isdifficult to make categorical distinctions between what is and what is notmetadiscourse); functional categories (metadiscourse can be representedmorphosyntactically by a range of different forms and structures);multifunctionality (metadiscourse expressions may fill two or morediscourse functions simultaneously); and context dependency (context isnecessary to identify metadiscourse).

Chapters 3-5 present the results of the investigation into the use ofmetadiscourse by learners and NS of English; chapters 3 and 4 examinepersonal and impersonal expressions, while chapter 5 analyses the textualdistribution of these two categories.

Personal metadiscourse makes direct reference to the writer or readerthrough pronouns or nouns. Specific examples are first retrieved from thecorpora and then sifted through manually to determine whether they possesstext internal or text external references. The study is both quantitative(as the frequency of use among the three language communities is recorded),and qualitative as the study examines the discourse functions of personalmetadiscourse among the three language communities).

Quantifying personal metadiscourse involves decisions regarding the unit ofmeasurement. As the author notes, different approaches have been taken; forexample, Mauranen (1993) uses the sentence as the unit of analysis. Ädelmaintains this would not enable a true quantitative analysis, as learnerstend to cluster units of personal metadiscourse within one sentence;therefore, to verify this tendency, each unit needs to be counted as oneoccurrence.

The results demonstrate that, within this particular corpus, considerabledifference exists across language communities with regard to the frequencyand density of use of metadiscourse. Swedish students use more than twicethat of US students, while these use twice as much as British students.Metadiscourse is also more densely clustered in learner texts.

The author subsequently turns to analyzing metadiscourse qualitatively byidentifying the discourse functions it serves. Initially consideringexisting taxonomies by Vassileva (1998), and Kuo (1998), Ädel thenformulates her own compendium of 16 functions, distinguishing between twosubcategories: metatext and reader-writer interaction. The former includesfunctions such as: saying, defining, exemplifying, reminding, adding,arguing, introducing topics, focusing, concluding, contextualizing; whilethe latter comprises functions that anticipate the reader's reaction suchas: clarifying, aligning perspectives, imagining scenarios, hypothesizingabout the reader, and appealing to reader. Calculating the occurrence ofthese functions across the three language communities, the Swedish learnersagain out-perform others in the frequency of use of each of these functions.

Corpus searches of impersonal metadiscourse in chapter 4 focus on a seriesof search terms (such as: essay, word, conclu*, second(ly), begin*,question, answer) compiled by reading the essays in the corpus and byconsulting the existing literature. Impersonal metadiscourse can also beclassified in terms of discourse functions, and Ädel identifies four maincategories: phoric markers (cataphoric or anaphoric; known together asendophoric markers in Hyland's 1998 terminology), references to text/code(for example: text, paper, essay, section, in other words), code glosses,discourse labels (explicitly announcing discourse acts such as defining,summarizing, concluding). Similar to the results obtained for personalmetadiscourse, Swedes writing in English heavily overuse these features.

Chapter 5 examines the textual distribution of both impersonal and personalmetadiscourse with a view to testing the initial hypothesis across thethree language communities that these language features typically appear atbeginnings and endings of text. To retrieve data, the author employs theconcordance programme Wordsmithtools (Scott 1999), which is able to dividea text into distinct parts and quantify occurrences of search terms ineach. The initial hypothesis is verified across the three groups.

Where the previous chapters have dealt with whether and how the use ofmetadiscourse varies, chapter 6 considers the possible causes of thisvariation, considering, for example, genre comparability, culturalconventions, and learner strategies. With regard to genre, the authordiscerns that metadiscourse is likely to find increased use where greaterconcern exists for how readers understand and accept ideas posited in thetext (hence, argumentative writing seems to be a particularly propitiousgenre). An examination of cultural conventions would require a corpusanalysis of L1 Swedish writing in order to study how this differs fromnative Anglophone texts (for example, to determine whether Swedish writtendiscourse constitutes a more reader responsible or writer responsibleculture, to use Hinds's 1987 terminology). As such a corpus is nonexistent,the author settles for a description of a general tendency towardsinformality in Swedish spoken and written language use, and claims thatforeign language teaching in Sweden favours the spoken language. This leadsto the claim that the overuse of metadiscourse may be a result of lack ofregister awareness.

Finally, with regard to learner strategies, the author discusses thepossibility that learners find that greater explicitness of writer presenceand discourse acts facilitates communication in a foreign language. Itseems reasonable to suggest that, as writing formally in a foreign languagerequires considerable cognitive effort, explicit use of metadiscourse helpsthe writer manage the task of constructing a text.

Chapter 7 returns to a more abstract level in its description of theoriesof metadiscourse, motivated by the perceived need to establish greatertheoretical rigour. The author classifies previous work as eitherrepresenting broad or narrow approaches to metadiscourse studies, situatingher own work between the two.

In the final chapter, besides summarizing the main theoretical andempirical findings, the author proposes topics for further research suchas: the study of essays in L1 Swedish, a comparison of metadiscourse useamong English learners with different L1s, the comparison of learner datawith professional writing (as opposed to L1 student writing), and aphraseological study on metadiscourse in terms of constructions,prefabricated phrases, and idiomatic/conventionalized expressions.

The book closes with a collection of appendices comprising shortdiscussions on topics related to the book's central theme which serve asoptional additional reading. These include: comparability of corpora; thecontrol corpus and the norm; metadiscourse as non-propositional material;meta-terminology: terms to talk about metadiscourse and related phenomena,how they differ or interrelate.


This is a study which is of high interest both to people working indifferent linguistic fields and to educators working in the area of L2language and writing instruction. The appropriate use of metadiscourse, asthis study clearly demonstrates, plays a key role in achieving theappropriate degree of writer visibility, as well as appropriate modes ofinteraction with the reader, both of which contribute to the approximationof native speaker communicative competence in formal written discourse.Those involved in advanced language teaching will gain important insightsinto what to incorporate into teaching curricula, as well as how to dealwith clumsy sounding texts due to overloaded use of metadiscourse.

Ädel has explored different ways of displaying qualitative and quantitativeinformation, using a variety of graphs, tables and concordance lines, aswell as textual excerpts, which, chosen prudently, permit a clear overviewof the main tendencies explored in her discussion.

Finally, her objective discussions of the results obtained from the corpusinclude an evaluation of how the nature of the corpus may favour certainresults. For example, unlike the English NS writers, the fact that theSwedish learners of English composed their texts under examinationconditions without recourse to other texts could well have influenced theiroveruse of metadiscourse for strategic reasons, for example, to disguisetheir difficulties in fulfilling the required essay length. The importanceof the book's content and the methods employed, matched by the author'sfluid, engaging writing style (displaying a masterful command ofmetadiscourse herself), makes the book an absorbing, satisfying read.


Hinds J. (1987). Reader versus writer responsibility: A new typology. In:U. Conner & R. Kaplan (Eds.), Writing across languages: Analysis of L2text. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

Hyland, K. (1998). Exploring corporate rhetoric: Metadiscourse in theCEO's letter. Journal of Business Communication, 35(2), 224-245.

Jakobson, R. (1998). On language: Roman Jakobson. L.R. Waugh & M.Monville-Burston (Eds.). Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.

Mauranen, A. (1993) Cultural differences in academic rhetoric Atextlinguistic study. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Vassileva, I. (1998). Who am I/we in academic writing?: A contrastiveanalysis of authorial presence in English, German, French, Russian, andBulgarian. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 8(2): 163-190.

Kuo, Chih-Hua (1998). The use of personal pronouns: Role relationships inscientific journal articles. English for Specific Purposes, 18(2), 121-138.


Louisa Buckingham is currently completing her Ph.D. at the University ofGranada (Spain) in the area of phraseology, and simultaneously works as anacademic writing instructor at Sabanci University. She has published in theareas of phraseology, and second language writing.