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Review of  Genre Change in the Contemporary World

Reviewer: Pejman Habibie
Book Title: Genre Change in the Contemporary World
Book Author: Giuliana Garzone Paola Catenaccio Chiara Degano
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 24.3359

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“Genre Change in the Contemporary World” intends to shed light on the impact of technological developments , innovations, and social trends having to do with genre change and evolution in the contemporary world. The volume consists of fifteen chapters including the opening one. After the opening chapter, the remaining chapters are grouped into two sections thematically, “Academic and Scientific Discourse” and “Institutional and Business Discourse”. “Notes on Contributors” and a reference list constitute the concluding sections of the volume.

Opening Chapter: Why Do Genres Change?

This chapter describes the overall framework of the book and provides the reader with a theoretical lens for reading the subsequent chapters. In this chapter, Giuliana Garzone enumerates textual, social, and cultural factors, intertextual and interdiscursive interferences, ideological forces, external pressures, and technological change as underlying factors that give rise to genre variation and evolution within different discourse communities and in different domains.

Section One: Academic and Scientific Discourse.

The chapters in this section address genre variation and evolution in academic and scientific discourse.

Chapter Two: The Evolution of the Abstract as a Genre: 1988-2008. The Case of Applied Linguistics.

This chapter presents a diachronic study of the evolution of the academic genre of the abstract in applied linguistics over a period of twenty years. Adopting a methodological approach that supports a combination of corpus and discourse perspectives, Marina Bondi and Silvia Cavalieri explore variations in communicative practices and linguistic features of this genre. The corpus consists of 70 abstracts from 1988 and 70 abstracts from 2008 collected from several refereed applied linguistics journals. The results indicate that writers can be more explicit and objective when talking about their papers and assessing their research rather than when talking about themselves, and that locational patterns provide writers with a choice between personalization and impersonality.

Chapter Three: A Diachronic Study of Genre Variation in Academic Publishing: The Quarterly Journal of Economics (1965-2004).

This chapter presents an exploratory study of generic dynamics of an English-medium journal. In this diachronic study, Davide S. Giannoni examines a corpus of tables of contents and specimen texts published in an influential economics journal over a span of forty years. The results indicate that generic diversity has gradually disappeared over the years and highlight the expanding gap between articles and all other minor contributions that enhance the conversations of disciplines but are not cited.

Chapter Four: Poster Makers Should Think as Much about Show Business as Science. The Case of Medical Posters in a Diachronic Perspective.

This chapter describes a diachronic study of the medical poster. Focusing on the discourse of medical posters and indicators of marketization processes within this discourse, Stefania M. Maci investigates the relationship between the socio-financial context and medical discourse and the ways business aspects of the health care system contribute to genre variation in this discourse. The corpus consists of 2,638 posters presented at medical conferences between 1980s-2000s. The results indicate a shift in the language of medical posters from a narrative to a disjunctive mode. The presence of this disjunctive mode necessitates adherence to the IMRD (introduction, method, results, discussion) pattern of scientific discourse. Moreover, the results reveal a change in the type of lexical items used in medical posters and the frequent use of the adjective ‘economic’ in the 2000-2009 corpus, indicating a shift of focus from statistical and empirical analysis in the years 1980-1999 to socio-economic, socio-political, and socio-cultural issues in the decade 2000-2009.

Chapter Five: Dialogic Monologues: Commencement Speeches as an Evolving Genre.

This chapter deals with commencement speeches delivered by high-caliber academic figures at graduation ceremonies in North American universities as an academic genre. Taking a diachronic perspective, Martin Solly examines generic and rhetorical strategies and moves used in this genre since 1947. This investigation indicates that monologues are becoming more and more dialogic and interactive, and that the marketization of higher education and social change have had a strong impact on the evolution of this genre. However, some of the main features of this genre such as its framing in the academic context have remained the same.

Chapter Six: Diachronic Evolution of Scientific Popularised Articles in Online Newspapers: Critical Reflections on El Mundo.

This chapter presents the results of a diachronic study of the popularization of scientific discourse in Spain. In this comparative study, Paula de Santiago accounts for the evolution of web genres in online newspapers, comparing the online supplement Salud and the online section Websalud of the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. The focus of the study is on the form and functionality of the articles analyzed. The results of this textual analysis are juxtaposed with insights from three interviews with the Health Department of the newspaper El Mundo as well. The findings indicate that social relevance is a significant factor in topic selection and the hyper-textual and hyper-modal capacities of the world wide web are used to a greater extent in the articles specifically designed for cyber space.

Chapter Seven: A Diachronic Study of the Q&A Column in a Popular Science Magazine

This chapter is about the diachronic evolution of science article popularization in Taiwan over a span of thirty years. It indicates how the relationship between genre users influences genres and their features over time. Drawing on a model adopted from critical genre analysis (Bhatia 2004), Min-Hsiu Liao describes Q&A columns and explains their social and historical interactions with popular science development. The corpus consists of all the correspondence in the Q&A column in Science Monthly from 1970-1999. The study concludes that changes at textual, institutional, and social levels are the result of the interaction among these layers of practice and do not necessarily follow a top down or a bottom up pattern.

Section Two: Institutional and Business Discourse.

The chapters in this section address genre variation and evolution in institutional and business discourse.

Chapter Eight: FAO’s Food Insecurity Reports: An Evolving Genre.

This chapter reports on a diachronic study of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports on the State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) from 1999-2009. Adopting a combination of a text-analytical approach (Werlich, 1983) and the study of the encoding / decoding context (Bhatia, 1993, 2004; Swales, 1990) as the methodological framework, Annarita Tavani (a) provides an analysis of distinctive characteristics of the SOFI reports and the sub-genres they define, and (b) explores the diachronic evolution of discursive practices used in this domain-specific genre. The corpus consists of ten issues of the report. The findings indicate that in spite of the structural stability of the documents, the distribution of text types and the organization of topics are different across several editions.

Chapter Nine: The Genre Evolution of the UN Secretary-General’s Annual Reports from 1953- 2010.

This chapter deals with a diachronic analysis of the evolution of the UN Secretary-General’s Annual Reports over a 60-year period. Drawing on Swales (1990, 2004) and Bhatia’s (1993, 2004) analytical frameworks, Cristina Pennarola and Germana D’Acquisto indicate how discursive and linguistic features of this genre have changed and how this genre, as an informative genre, has evolved into a self-promotional genre expanding its communicative purpose and domain of address. The corpus consists of 37 UN Secretary-General’s Annual Reports on the Work of the Organization from 1953-2010. The analysis indicates significant changes in the narrative focus and the authorial stance across the early and the recent reports.

Chapter Ten: From Making to Promoting Law: An Investigation into the Evolution of ‘Food safety’ Discourse in EU Summaries.

This chapter presents a diachronic comparative analysis of the Summaries of European legislation as a popularized form of the specialized genre of Directives and a manifestation of the institutional legal discourse of the European Union. Drawing on genre analysis, critical discourse analysis, and studies on modality, Vanda Polese and Stefania D’Avanzo provide a contextual framework to the analysis of this genre, analyze its features, and explore the value of modal auxiliaries in this genre. The corpus consists of Summaries of EU Directives in the thematic area of food safety from 1982 to 2008. The findings indicate an increase in the occurrence of shall and migrating quotes in the 1990s followed by a decrease in the 2000s. The authors conclude that the discursive strategies identified in this study are functional to strengthening legitimation and credibility in EU’s involvement in food safety.

Chapter Eleven: Genre-bending for Consensus Building: A Diachronic Perspective on Monsanto’s Pledge Reports (2000-2009).

This chapter reports on a diachronic analysis of a business genre; namely pledge reports. Taking a discourse-analytical approach to corporate social responsibility communication, Paola Catenaccio traces the evolution of the discursive strategies used in the reports published by the biotechnology giant Monsanto over a span of 10 years. The corpus consists of all reports issued between 2000 and 2009. The analysis indicates that although this genre has not had dramatic changes over the years, the argumentative component of this genre has increased progressively.

Chapter Twelve: Apologetic Discourse in Financial Reporting: CEO and Chairman Statements. A Case Study.

This chapter deals with a diachronic study of apologetic discourse in Annual Company Reports (ACRs). The study investigates the influence of external circumstances on rhetorical strategies. Drawing upon the findings of Ware and Linkugel (1973), Cinzia Giglioni analyzes the use of apologetic discourse over time and its role in generic variation focusing on CEO’s and Chairman’s Statements in ACRs. The corpus of the study is drawn from online resources and consists of eighteen company reports issued in 2000 and 2009 by nine UK companies. The findings reveal variations in this genre and highlight that variations are related to the nature of economic outlook at each of the above-mentioned periods.

Chapter Thirteen: The CEO’s New Year’s Message from the 1960s to 2000.

This chapter presents a study of the diachronic evolution of a business genre, the CEO’s New Year’s message, in the period from the 1960s to 2000. Combining qualitative and quantitative methods, Sylvain Dieltjens and Priscilla Heynderickx analyze changes in various aspects of this genre such as length, format, proportion of negative vs. positive information, structure of the message, and linguistic features. They also examine the difference in manifestation of this genre in times of crisis and times of economic stability. The corpus consists of 142 New Year’s messages collected from the archives of different Belgian companies. The findings indicate that although the texts have become longer, the extent of attention to wishes have decreased. CEOs ask for more dedication, and their sense of obligation to thank employees for their efforts have decreased. Moreover, there is variation in this genre in times of economic crisis and economic stability. Business-related information has increased and become more detailed during crisis times.

Chapter Fourteen: From Job Announcements to Recruitment Advertising: The Evolution of Recruitment Ads in a Flemish Newspaper (1946-2010).

This chapter reports on a diachronic study of job ads. Drawing on textual findings and factors in the Flemish context, Paul Gillaerts describes the evolution of this genre in the Flemish newspaper De Standard over a period of sixty years through a combination of various genre analytical approaches. The findings indicate that in spite of the diachronic development of this genre and high level of stability of its constituent moves, the strategies and steps used in this genre indicate genre bending and mixing with other genres such as direct mail and commercial advertising. The analysis also reveals the growing significance of stance and interaction in this genre, which in turn indicate the marketization of the genre.

Chapter Fifteen: Genre Variation and Genre Change: Theory and Applications.

In this chapter, Francesca Santulli focuses on the dynamic relationship between genre and change, emphasizing attention to synchronic and diachronic aspects of the concept of genre. She argues that genre functions can only be explained in the light of their change and evolution. She applies the pattern of genre variation and evolution to the analysis of the travel guide genre. The origin of this text genre and some aspects of its recent evolutions are the two aspects that are taken into account. The findings highlight the significant role of the historical context in emergence, development, and evolution of genre in general and the tourist guide in particular.


“Genre Change in the Contemporary World” is an invaluable collection of cutting-edge studies in the domain of genre analysis. The chapters are nicely categorized into two sections, academic discourse and business discourse, and each chapter demonstrates interesting research into a genre within these two discourses. The categorization of studies and thematic coherence among them provide a sense of flow and unity through the book. The volume requires background knowledge on the concept of genre and genre analysis research. It is an intriguing and insightful read for novice and established members of the discourse community. It provides a multi-dimensional picture of genre change in the contemporary world in the true sense of the word, sketches the concept of genre in transition, draws attention to forces that shape it, and shed light on dynamic as well as static aspects of different genres against various waves of change.

Marina Bondi and Silvia Cavalieri’s research and Davide S. Giannoni’s study are
noteworthy in terms of their methodological approaches. These studies adopt an integrative methodological approach combining corpus and discourse perspectives as well as quantitative and qualitative tools to investigate the evolution of the abstract and genre variation in academic publishing respectively. Using mixed data collection methods and tools increases the reliability and validity of these studies and their findings.

Martin Solly’s chapter is the only chapter in this volume that focuses on an oral genre, the commencement speech. This is appreciated, since genre studies have mainly focused on written genres. Moreover, the findings of this research study in terms of the role of social trends in the evolution of this genre and its popularizing function are extremely interesting.

Min-Hsiu Liao’s study is also noteworthy in several respects. It addresses the popularization of scientific discourse as a hot topic in genre studies, and focuses on the role of genre users as an evolutionary force. It steps beyond textual features of discourse and expands the investigation to institutional and social aspects of discourse. Last but not least, it highlights the interactions and reciprocal relationship among these discoursal spaces.

Sylvain Dieltjens and Priscilla Heynderickx’s research and Cinzia Giglioni’s study are among the interesting chapters of the second section of this volume. In addition to the diachronic nature of their analyses, which is a common feature of research studies in this volume, these papers highlight the key role of socioeconomic forces and situations in the emergence and evolution of genres, discursive practices, and rhetorical strategies of genre users.

Francesca Santulli’s exploratory study on the travel guide as a recent text genre provides a nice closing for this volume. It is noteworthy in that Santulli highlights the significant role of the historical context in the emergence, development, and evolution of genre, and presents a theoretical approach in which she focuses on the dynamic relationship between genre and change and emphasizes attention to synchronic and diachronic aspects of the concept of genre.

This volume opens a fresh perspective on research into genre, and highlights where future research needs to focus. It draws attention to more complicated aspects of genre, redefining genre analysis in a social context beyond conventional textual and formalistic aspects. It sheds light on the role of socio-political and contextual factors in shaping and transforming genres. The diachronic perspective of the research in this volume highlights the transitory and context-bound nature of genre. The reciprocal relationship between genre and discourse community, genre and social context, and text and context are illustrated and the pivotal role of social trends and phenomena in evolution, extinction and mutation of genres are nicely demonstrated. Another distinctive aspect of this volume is its focus on the role of technological innovations, especially computer-mediated technologies, in creation, redefinition, transformation, and evolution of genres. Variety in methodological approaches and implications for further study are also useful for the reader.


Bhatia, V. K. (1993). Analyzing Genre: Language Use in Professional Settings. London: Loman.

Bhatia, V. K. (2004). Worlds of Written Discourse: A Genre-based Approach. London: Continuum.

Swales, J. M. (1990). Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press.

Swales, J. M. (2004). Research genres: Explorations and applications. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Ware, B. L., Linkugel, W. A. (1973). They Spoke in Defense of Themselves: On the Generic Criticism of Apologia. Quarterly Journal of Speech. 59, 273-283.

Werlich, E. (1983). A Text Grammar of English. Heidelberg: Quelle and Meyer.
Pejman Habibie is the Lead teacher assistant in the Faculty of Education at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. His research interests are EAP, EPAP, academic writing and publishing, genre analysis, and doctoral education.

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