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-MontesinosTITLE: Constructing Professional DiscourseSUBTITLE: A Multiperspective Approach to Domain-Specific DiscoursesPUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars PublishingYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Filippo Pecorari, Università degli Studi di Pavia

SUMMARYThis book’s main aim is the analysis of professional discourse, withparticular 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 thethree main chapters, as well as the key role of language in the social contextunder examination. The book draws on the author’s previous work, with a focuson different aspects of the construction discipline (cf. Orna-Montesinos 2008,2010a, 2010b, 2011), and is divided into five chapters: Chapter 1 provides anintroduction, Chapters 2-4 form the bulk of the volume and Chapter 5 gives aglobal 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 whichsocial practices, genres and texts contribute to the construction ofdiscourse'' (p. 4). This tripartite view of the writing process is reflectedin the organization of Chapters 2-4, which respectively deal with discourse asgenre, as text and as socio-professional practice.

The perspective adopted is a socio-constructionist one: social context andprofessional culture exert a major influence on the creation of texts and,above all, on the use of genres. In genre studies, an ethnographic analysis ofthe professional context is advocated, along with a textual one, to capturethe influence of socio-cultural and professional practices (i.e. text-externalfeatures) on text-internal features, in the wake of Bhatia (2004). The maintheoretical 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 theother main theoretical postulates. The adoption of an approach that nurturesfrom different disciplines is required by the complex multidimensionalcharacter 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 themembers of the construction engineering community both construct and interprettextbooks'' and ''understand[ing] what 'building' means for this particularcommunity'' (pp. 12-13).

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

The first quantitative data gathered by the author concerns the parameters oflexical density and frequency in the CTC: textbooks have a very high lexicaldensity, since they are ''much more informational in focus than otherregisters'' (p. 21), and the most frequent content words of the corpus arediscipline-related ones (e.g. 'building', 'design', 'construction'), centralin the development of disciplinary knowledge. The author goes on to identifythe key words in the corpus, i.e. the words ''whose frequency is unusuallyhigh in comparison with some norm'' (p. 25), by comparing the CTC with theBritish National Corpus: once again, discipline-specific lexis is prevalent.Finally, the author examines the formal profile of the lemma 'build': it ismore common as a noun than as a verb, in agreement with the high occurrence ofnominalization in scientific genres. The high frequency and the status of mostcommon key word ''justify the extended analysis of the semantic profile of thenoun '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 analysisof the blurbs corpus helps to understand the communicative purposes of thetextbook genre. The four main moves found in the blurbs are authorship,readership, presentation and promotion of the book. The first two movesillustrate the hybrid nature of the textbook, which bridges the gap betweenacademia and the profession: textbooks are written not only by scholars, butalso by architects and other professionals, and almost the three fourths ofthe books are addressed to a mixed readership of students and professionals.The presentation and promotion moves are tightly intertwined: through the useof evaluative lexis or links to disciplinary value, the blurbs aim atadvertising the books to the widest audience. Particular stress is laid on themultidimensional disciplinary knowledge provided by the textbook: the authoradvocates for a multifaceted view of professional identity, made up ofprofessional skills and domain-specific communicative conventions, and thetextbook is seen as the main instrument able to build this complex expertise.

The analysis ends with a proposal for a reconceptualization of the textbookgenre: it is not only ''a summary of received disciplinary knowledge'', butalso a fundamental instrument for ''acculturating the reader into theepistemology of the discipline and conversely transmitting how the authorsconceive the scope of the profession'' (p. 39). The new label proposed byOrna-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 lexicalrelations and lexico-grammatical patterns, while the second enquires into thelexical contribute to cohesion and rhetorical aspects of discourse. Theconcept is the sharing of a disciplinary vocabulary among the members of aprofessional 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. Theanalysis of semantic relations is limited to hyponymy and meronymy. Hyponymssatisfy a need for specificity, which is peculiar of professional discourse:the 132 hyponyms of 'building' employed in the CTC cover five levels ofhyponymy. Prototype theory and text-external factors are advocated to explainthe high frequency in the corpus of entities such as houses and places ofworship, with their hyponyms. The analysis of meronyms is conducted by lookingat the first level of meronymy of 'building' and at the three sub-levels ofhyponymy of the meronyms. All meronyms belong to the category of functionalcomponents of the building. The frequency of occurrence of meronyms is higherthan that of hyponyms, thus showing that, in the textbook genre, parts ofbuildings require a more detailed description than types of buildings. Theauthor goes on to study the lexico-grammatical patterns which mark hyponymyand meronymy relations, seen as a basic component of disciplinary lexicalknowledge. As far as hyponymy is concerned, the pattern 'such (as)' is themost frequent, while meronymy is most frequently realized by a more implicit'Noun Phrase (NP) + Prepositional Phrase (PP)' pattern. The first section ofthe chapter ends with some observations about limitations of lexicaldatabases: many domain-specific terms, both hyponyms and meronyms of'building', are missing. These limitations call for further lexical researchon professional domains.

The second section begins by considering the cohesive role of lexicalrelations in texts: different strategies (e.g. synonyms, hypernyms, generalnouns) contribute to the development of texture through the construction of anetwork of cohesive ties. The bulk of the section is devoted to an analysis ofthe rhetorical functions employed in the CTC. Particular emphasis is put onthe 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 tomaster. Meronymy relations, on the other hand, mainly help writers to realisethe function of 'description', since the components of the building areessential to a precise characterization of it. Finally, the author deals withpatterns of textual development, with focus on General-Particular relationsand lexical patterns used therein. This rhetorical technique has a basic rolein specialized writing, since generalizations are one of the main instrumentsof scientific discourse.

Chapter 4 (pp. 121-168) aims to grasp how disciplinary knowledge is embeddedin text-internal features. The author adopts a discourse semantics frameworkto 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 ashared value system'' (p. 124).

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

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

Value creation in disciplinary writing is tackled from two perspectives: theconstruction of the image of the building and of the discipline. Forbuildings, the author first takes into account definition and description inthe CTC, while a bigger part is devoted to evaluative aspects, which make amajor contribution to the disciplinary image of the building. The framework ofevaluation analysis is the view of language as an ideology (cf. Kress & Hodge1979), according to which texts are mainly social products, reflecting theideology of the disciplinary community who writes them. Evaluation, in thisframework, fulfils the basic social function of ''constructing the specificdisciplinary voice of a community'' (p. 150). Evaluation is conveyed in thecorpus by explicit value-laden words and co-textual implications. The mainevaluation criterion for a building is the comparison with other buildingsvalued as good by the community. A final section deals with the presence ofmetaphors in construction engineering discourse: metaphor is ''a key resourcein facilitating comprehension in textbooks'' (p. 158) and it might be based ondiscipline-specific connotations (e.g. the adjective 'green' in theconstruction domain). The author finally deals with the construction of theimage of the discipline, mainly through the perspective of rhetoricalpatterns. One of the main organizational patterns of the CTC isProblem-Solution and this prevalence is explained by making reference totext-external factors: the discipline is often considered as an appliedproblem-solving profession, concerned with design of new buildings andconservation of old ones. Some examples are presented in which patternsconnected to Problem-Solution are associated with the use of descriptivemodifiers of the noun 'building' (e.g. 'historic', 'adapted').

Chapter 5 (pp. 169-180) summarizes the main results. The focus onrelationships between text-external and text-internal features is reflected inmany remarks: lexical choices and discourse organizing patterns are stronglyconstrained by disciplinary conventions and, conversely, contribute to thecreation and transmission of disciplinary knowledge. The analysis of thetextbook genre has brought to the fore its role both in ''contentacculturation'' and in ''generic acculturation'' (p. 180) of the novices.

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

EVALUATIONThe book achieves its goal of showing the strict interdependence betweentext-internal and text-external features of professional discourse, usingample examples and tables with quantitative data. Moreover, the appendicescontribute 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 thegeneral purposes of the volume: the view of this genre as a form of ''socialaction'' (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-specificdisciplinary culture: several points underline the importance of adopting anarrow point of view, rather than running the risk of over-generalization. Thebook recognises that the linguistic construction of knowledge (through, forexample, rhetorical strategies and evaluative resources) is different acrossdisciplinary discourses and linguistic differences are constrained byepistemological and ideological ones.

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

The main drawback is the number of typographical errors, sometimes apparentlydue to careless copying-pasting, which make some sections difficult to read;in particular, two long paragraphs of Chapter 1 (pp. 39-41) are replicatedword-for-word latter in the chapter (pp. 48-49). A minor shortcoming is theepisodic 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 itsnumerous sub-categories and occurrences are not clearly commented on either.

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

REFERENCESBerkenkotter, Carol & Thomas N. Huckin. 1995. Genre knowledge in disciplinarycommunication. 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 Speech70(2). 151-167.

Orna-Montesinos, Concepción. 2008. A contribution to the lexis of constructionengineering textbooks: The case of 'building' and 'construction'. Ibérica 16.59-79.

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

Orna-Montesinos, Concepción. 2010b. The building: The problem-solving productof the construction discipline. Revista de Lenguas para Fines Específicos15-16. 159-182.

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

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

ABOUT THE REVIEWERFilippo Pecorari is a Ph.D. student at the University of Pavia (Italy). He iscurrently working on a thesis about textual aspects of event anaphora inwritten 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 theelaboration of an annotation scheme for event anaphora. His research interestsare mainly focused around textual linguistics, semantics, pragmatics andcomputational linguistics.

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