LINGUIST List 23.1382

Mon Mar 19 2012

Review: Discourse analysis: Bhatia et al. (2011)

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



Date: 19-Mar-2012
From: Laura Dubcovsky <ledubcovskyucdavis.edu>
Subject: Researching Specialized Languages
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EDITORS: Bhatia, Vijay, Sánchez Hernández, Purificación and Pérez-Paredes, PascualTITLE: Researching Specialized LanguagesSERIES TITLE : Studies in Corpus Linguistics 47PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2011

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


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

"The Historical Shift of Scientific Academic Prose In English Towards LessExplicit Styles of Expression: Writing Without Verbs," by Douglas Biber andBethany Gray. The authors characterize the professional written language,following two distinctive features of oral and written language: elaboration andexplicitness in texts. Drawing from medicine, education, psychology and historycorpora, Biber and Gray identify and non-clausal modifiers embedded in nominalphrases as key features in academic discourse. These phrases offer a simplersyntax, but encompass a less explicit meaning relationship to the head noun. Incontrast, oral language has longer clauses that bring more elaborated structureand can specify the exact meaning relationship. The authors conclude that thecomplexities of oral and written languages consist of different features.

Carmen Pérez-Llantada Auría writes "Heteroglossic (Dis) Engagement And TheConstrual of the Ideal Readerships: Dialogic Spaces In Academic Texts." Theauthor examines the degrees of attachment to or detachment from the audience inbiomedical research articles through four lexical-grammatical patterns inpublications in English, written by Anglo speakers and by Spanish speakers, andin articles in Spanish written by Spanish writers. While both "dialogicallycontractive" patterns ("we-subject" and "anticipatory it") and "dialogicallyexpansive" patterns (inanimate subject and passive constructions) are overallused across sections, there are evident functional differences between groups,when accompanied by other linguistic features. Anglo writers are able to createa higher level of collegiality between writer and reader and strengthen anassertive attitude in the text tone, while Spanish writers choose features thatmitigate the self promotional intentions in their Spanish texts. Finally, textswritten in English by the Spanish scholars combine "heteroglossic disengagement"and "heteroglossic engagement" modes (White 2003), creating a hybrid space thatcloses down and opens up the dialogue with the reader.

The article by Sara Gesuato, "Structure, Content And Functions Of Calls ForConference Abstracts" analyses these texts from a pragmatic perspective, ascommunicative acts of inviting the audience to participate. The author developsa bottom-up system with three main coding categories, based on a corpus of onehundred texts taken from four academic disciplines. She describes sixteen movetypes that accompany the main categories, gives examples and detailed tables tosupport her case. Results from her analysis show that there are moresimilarities in distribution and frequency between Biology and Computing, andbetween History and Linguistics. Yet the author finds that a similar sequencerepresents different functions in the internal moves of announcements, offers,and orders. Therefore Calls for Conference Abstracts represent complex textsthat do not instantiate an identical text type or structure potential. Gesuatohighlights that better understanding of this less explored genre wouldcontribute to establishing and sharing common standards, practices, andviewpoints 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 AccessBiomedical Research Articles Involves Rephrasing Strategies" by MercedesJaime-Sisó, focuses on the reading behavior of online articles. Embracing theview that genres are communicative acts, with real purposes and audiences, andsituated in cultural contexts, the author uses a multi-dimensional analysis ofsocial, professional, and textual layers. She interviews faculty members frombiomedical and related departments, and uses a small corpus of researcharticles. Results reveal that scholars use reading patterns that depart from thelinear sequence, and that they prefer to scan the table contents, readabstracts, and look at tables, figures and legends, mostly skipping theintroduction and methodology sections. These parts usually function asmicro-texts that summarize main results and conclusion, with links to accessindividual sections and frequent repetitions of the findings throughout thepaper. Jaime-Sisó suggests that these economical strategies will contribute toteaching academic English in the online era of scholarly publishing. Sherecommends that academic English courses include practice with summaries,rephrasing techniques, and clarity of message, avoiding informal and/orambiguous language.

Pascual Pérez-Paredes, Purificación Sanchez Hernández, and Pilar Aguado Jiménezwrite "The Use Of Adverbial Edges In EAP Students' Oral Performance." Based onthe notion that hedging is a signal of advanced linguistic competence, theauthors compare adverbial hedges as used by English learners and among nativespeakers in oral performance, which has been less explored than hedging inwritten corpora. Pérez-Paredes et al. interview 59 Spanish native speakersstudying English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and 28 English native students ofModern Languages (ML). They also follow the Louvain International Database ofSpoken English Interlanguage Corpus (De Cock 1998) that consists of a topic fordiscussion, a brief interpersonal communication, and a retelling of a storyillustrated in four pictures. Results show that overall the two groups use theadverbial hedges in interpersonal conversations and personal experiences, morethan in the description of factual information. However, Spanish speakers ofEnglish present a narrower use and specific preferences among these adverbialhedges. The authors expand on pedagogical implications for teaching hedges andother stance strategies to non-native speakers.

In the sixth article, "Integrating Approaches To Visual Data Commentary: AnExploratory Case Study," Carmen Sancho Guinda brings multimodal genres to thefield of English for specialized disciplines. She claims that graphicinformation processing has relevant and ubiquitous roles in academic, scientificand technical discourses. Following a situated perspective on genre, the authorexamines two tasks carried out by 57 Aeronautical Engineering students fromMadrid with intermediate level proficiency in English. Drawing from systemicfunctional linguistics (SFL) her analysis reveals that students use fewmeta-discursive and presentational constructions and that they prefer insteadcompensatory tactics, such as using common-core and pre- modified superordinatenouns, and collocational interference from their first language. Sancho Guindaprovides a tentative teaching inventory, following SFL ideational,interpersonal, and textual metafunctions. Finally she points out the need forexplicit teaching of meta-discursive items and presentational structures, whichare 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 ForSpecific Purposes," John Flowerdew define genres as staged and structuredevents, motivated by various communicative purposes, and performed by members ofspecific discourse communities. He examines a reasonably large corpus, withrelated literature and a wide range of examples to identify four relevantdichotomies, with the purpose of enhancing the productivity of genre theory andcontributing to the LSP literature. The first dichotomy is based on genre asindividual or networks, which is broader and facilitates the comparison ofsimilarities and differences of structural moves and patterns across aparticular field. The second dichotomy presents written versus spoken genres.While the former has been well studied, Flowerdew focuses on spoken genrestudies, both in informal conversational and formal academic presentations andlectures. The third dichotomy represents the tension between macro(situation/context) and micro (linguistic features) levels of analysis, bothneeded to better interpret the genre. The fourth dichotomy shows that genreanalysis typically focuses more on structural moves than lexico-grammaticalfeatures.

The second article, "English For Legal Purposes And Domain-Specific CulturalAwareness: The 'Continental Paradox,' Definition, Causes And Evolution" byShaeda Isani, describes the knowledge and misconceptions of the legal system inEurope (mainly France, Germany, and Spain), which she characterizes as a"continental paradox," because people do not ignore the system but prefer tosubstitute the American legal system for it. The study aims to promote greaterawareness of the target legal culture. Isani describes the specific domain ofthe legal culture, following areas of knowledge, behavior and organization. Shealso gives examples of correct and incorrect uses of legal terms in France, andrelates them to media, academic and didactic reasons. The author describes athree-phase sequence of "vacuum," originated in the hermetic status andremoteness of European law institutions and professionals, "exposure," by whichthe 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 universityEnglish learners in the UK to write academic papers. She considers typicaldistinctions between narrative and academic arguments, and overlaps them intexts required at the university level. The author takes narratives fromdifferent fields and languages, such as an Urdu/English trainee teacher, and aPortuguese/English product designer as the starting point to draw on featuresthat may be later exploited to develop other academic genres. To support thepoint that narrative components can be used in academic texts, Lazar follows thenarrative stages as headings of her own article. Finally she suggests steps tomove from personal narratives to reflective arguments, such as tutor/studentconversations, peer interactions or triangulations, drafts and annotations,models for analysis and discussion, and collaboration between writing tutors andsubject specialists.

Kris Buyse, Eva Saver, An Laffut, and Herlinda Vekemans present "UrgentiAS, ALexical Database For Medical Students In Clinical Placements." The authorspropose an online multilingual lexicon of specific terms for medicine,especially useful for doctors abroad. To achieve this goal, Buyse et al. study100 undergraduate Dutch-speaking Belgian students of medicine in Leuven. Theauthors realize that most mandatory medical language courses provide studentswith word-by-word memorization, leaving out communicative aspects ofdoctor/patient verbal interactions. Therefore, they attempt to create a lexicontool that addresses not only the knowledge of medical vocabulary, but alsocommunicative skills, so that doctors and related health professionals canestablish 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 andonline learning. The authors present vocabulary in comprehensive context, withdefinitions, translations, grammatical information, usage notes, geographicalvariants, acronyms, and pronunciation. They especially recommend repetitions andfrequent encounters with the new word, emphasizing incidental and explicitlytaught vocabulary, and placing words in semantic and syntactic contexts.

The last article of section 2 is "Using Natural Language Patterns For TheDevelopment Of Ontologies," by Elena Montiel-Ponsoda and Guadalupe Aguado deCea. The authors follow notions and terminology from computational linguisticsand knowledge engineering to develop ontologies in natural languages and createa repository of lexico-syntactic patterns, which may help students in thetransmission and mapping of knowledge. They first exemplify the five componentsof ontology -- type, attributes, relation, instance and axiom -- through acartoon character. Then they explain potential uses of ontologies based onnatural language patterns, such as lexicon building, specialized dictionaries,and quick retrieval of background knowledge of certain fields, especially usefulfor translators and interpreters. Although the authors recognize thatidiosyncratic characteristics of ambiguity and disjointedness in naturallanguages are limitations, they are particularly interested in ontologies thatmay open up new areas in language teaching. They would facilitate the teachingof classifications and taxonomies, needed in academic settings, as well asawareness of lexical, syntactic and semantic features. Especially useful fornon-native learners, ontologies would present models of conceptual maps, joiningspecialized domains and technical language.

EVALUATIONThis book is a careful attempt to promote and develop the research of LSP. Theeditors have achieved their goals by showing various fields of expertise toresearchers, practitioners and students interested in the understanding ofspecialized languages, including those who deal with English learners inacademics and/or specific disciplines. The eleven articles are joined by thecommon purpose of LSP as a discipline, but they are different in nature, goals,and specificity. Within this broad spectrum, it is sometimes difficult to focuson one particular audience. On the one hand, there are some foundationalchapters, necessary for any novice, such as the first paper in each section. Onthe other hand, some papers address more specific audiences, either because thefocus is very narrow -- such as the examination of calls for conferenceabstracts --, or because the author uses highly technical terminology thatrequires previous topic initiation, such as the analysis on intersubjectivity inacademic texts.

The book also encompasses a broad range of interpretations of specializedlanguages. Generally speaking, the articles are solidly grounded, eitherbecause they triangulate date, or use multiple layers of analysis, or have aclear theoretical framework. Above all, this diverse collection opens uppossibilities for future research on specialized languages. Among the possibledirections, the current readings suggest a need for deeper examination of thenature and functions of different specialized languages, larger data collectionto gain more empirical evidence, solid tools of analysis to better interpret thegrowing field of LSP, and more explicit educational strategies to provideteachers of related courses with pedagogical tools. The future path for LSPlooks promising, with an increasingly coherent body of knowledge and strongerinterdisciplinary relationships.

REFERENCESDe Cock, S. (1998). Corpora of learner speech and writing and ELT. Paperpresented 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 thelanguage of intersubjectivity stance. Text, 23(2), 259-284.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERLaura Dubcovsky is a lecturer and supervisor in the teacher educationprogram from UC Davis. She has a Master's in Education and a PhD in SpanishLinguistics with special emphasis on second language acquisition. Her areasof interest combine the field of language and education. She is dedicatedto the preparation of prospective Spanish/English teachers, and haspresented the preparation course in different forums. She analyzeslinguistic features of both bilingual teachers and children, from aSystemic Functional Language approach, as in her 2008 "Functions of theverb decir ('to say') in the incipient academic Spanish writing ofbilingual children" in Functions of Language, 15(2), 257-280.

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