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Review of  Worlds of Written Discourse

Reviewer: Diana Yankova
Book Title: Worlds of Written Discourse
Book Author: Vijay K. Bhatia
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Ling & Literature
Issue Number: 16.299

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Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2005 23:42:25 +0200
From: Diana Yankova
Subject: Worlds of Written Discourse: A Genre-Based View

AUTHOR: Bhatia, Vijay K.
TITLE: Worlds of Written Discourse
SUBTITLE: A Genre-Based View
SERIES: Advances in Applied Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd
YEAR: 2004

Diana Yankova, Applied Linguistics Department, New Bulgarian University

The purpose of the book is to address the relation, or rather the gap,
between the real and the ideal -- the actuality of written discourse in
academic, professional and institutional contexts, with its idealistic
representation in genre analysis. Its intended audience are linguists
interested in discourse and genre research, as well as practitioners teaching
a course on genre analysis.

The book is divided into five sections: Overview, The world of reality, The
world of private intentions, The world of analytical perspectives, The world
of applications. The setting of what is to follow is provided by
the 'Overview', where terms such as 'discourse' are glossed. In a survey of
the historical development of discourse analysis the different approaches to
analyzing written discourse are viewed (discourse as text, as genre, as
professional practice, as social practice) as well as the different stages of
analysis (textualization, organization, contextualization). On this basis
Bhatia provides his conception of a multi-perspective model of discourse
which comprises four spaces: textual, tactical, professional, social space.
The two most important characteristics of the genre-based view of
language are the emphasis on conventionalized generic features on the one
hand and the observation that genres are dynamic, they develop and
change, on the other. The seeming discrepancy between these
contradictory and opposing features of genres and their implications and
corollaries are exploited in detail in the following sections.

The section "The world of reality" explores the function of disciplinary
knowledge with a view to a deeper awareness of genre-based variation in
academic and professional discourse and considers genres within and
across specific domains. Bhatia begins by elucidating the terms genre,
register, discipline, offering a neat and clear distinction. Registers are
defined on the specific configuration of the three contextual factors of field,
mode and tenor of discourse and represent the content; disciplines
manifest features of the subject matter and represent the language
associated with the content; and genres cut across disciplines and are
singled out on the basis of their communicative purpose. Different types of
variations are considered which testify to the fact that the relationship
between registers, specialist disciplines and genres is complex in that they
can overlap or contrast with each other.

Taking as example the genres of textbooks, lectures and cases, Bhatia
shows that although they all serve a common purpose in academic contexts
across disciplines they also display idiosyncratic disciplinary characteristics,
such as variation in knowledge structures and norms of inquiry, typical
patterns of rhetorical strategies associated with typical modes of
expression, specialist lexis, etc. These variations are contingent on the
discursive practices of the discipline, the disciplinary methodologies, and
the pedagogic tasks and activities deemed productive for particular

Bhatia subcategorizes domain-specific genres as comprising genre sets
(specific typical genres of a particular professional which are distinct, yet
intertextually linked), systems of genres (composed of all the interrelated
genres produced by all the participants in a professional activity) and
disciplinary genres (representative of a particular professional domain, such
as law or business). The concept of a genre colony is introduced as a
collection of genres within and across disciplines with a common
communicative purpose and considered primary members. It is also "a
process whereby generic resources are exploited and appropriated to
create hybrid (both mixed and embedded) forms, which may be considered
secondary members of the colony" (Bhatia 2004:58).

According to what he terms 'generic values' (the combination of rhetorical
acts through which the communicative purposes of genres are realized, e.g.
description, evaluation, information, explanation) Bhatia differentiates
between primary and secondary members of genre colonies within and
across disciplinary domains. For example, in considering the colony
of 'promotional genres' he enumerates advertisements, promotional letters,
book blurbs, job application letters, reference letters, which although
displaying specific realizations demonstrate an overlap in communicative
purpose -- a common promotional purpose. Further, each genre can be
described at a lower degree of generalization, for instance, with
advertisements -- he distinguishes between print advertisements, TV
commercials, radio advertisements, etc. Secondary genres would be such
that have strong promotional concerns, for instance fundraising letters,
travel brochures, grant proposals, book reviews, film reviews, company
reports, annual reports, company brochures. Many such secondary
members can be primary in another colony. Bhatia gives further illustrations
within the genre colonies of 'academic introductions' and 'reporting genres'
making the observation that the mixing of private intentions with socially
recognized communicative purposes leads to appropriated, embedded,
mixed or hybrid forms of discourse (cf. Scollon et al 1999) and this is the
theme of the next section, 'The world of private intentions'.

The discussion centers on the recent tendency of expert members of a
discourse community to adopt lexico-grammatical, rhetorical, discoursal
generic conventions from a particular genre in the construction of another
in order to communicate their private intentions, resulting in
the "colonization of one genre by the other by invading its integrity" (Bhatia
2004:87). This invasion of territorial integrity that materializes in the
appropriation of generic resources across conventional socio-rhetoric
boundaries is determined by the dynamic and interrelated spheres of
current academic, institutional and professional life. Such an omnipresent
and genre is advertising -- it has invaded several genres: academic,
corporate, political, journalistic and this corroborates Bhatia's claim that
informative functions are more likely to be colonized by promotional
functions than by any other since they are unlikely to create tensions (Bhatia
2004:89). Several mixed genres are in the process of
creation: 'infomercial', 'infotainment', 'advertorial', while others, such as job
application letters and philanthropic fundraising letters demonstrate
similarities with advertising in their communicative purposes, lexico-
grammar, and their move structure.

Although hybrid or mixed types of genres serving complementary
communicative purposes are more common, Bhatia gives evidence of
mixing of genres that serve conflicting or contradictory communicative
purposes. He exemplifies it with the joint declaration by Hong Kong/China
during Hong Kong's handover which comprises legislative intentions (to
provide solutions to future disputes) and the conflicting diplomatic
intentions (to promote mutual understanding and to defer difficult
decisions on contentious issues that might be resolved by means of

Bhatia's concern is how expert writers manage to identify, compose,
interpret, use and exploit generic constructs in a socially accepted manner
despite such complex variations in the lexico-grammatical and discoursal
features of genres and in their interpretative strategies and expectations.
The explanation he puts forth is that they respect the generic integrity
which he defines as "a socially constructed constellation of form-function
correlations representing a specific professional, academic or institutional
communicative construct realizing a specific communicative purpose of the
genre in question (...) constructed in the context of the goals of the
professional or disciplinary culture it is often associated with" (Bhatia
2004:123). Generic integrity is defined by text-internal (contextual, textual
and intertextual) and text-external characteristics (discursive practices,
discursive procedures, disciplinary culture); it is "flexible, negotiable or
sometimes contested". The versatility of genres depends on dynamic
changes in the nature of a specific genre over time or on the contextual
factors that constrain the genre. An example of the former is the
advertorial, a hybrid from travel and tourism of the editorial and
advertisement, and of the latter -- the legislative provision.

A topical but still ill-defined and nebulous issue is how specialists acquire
professional expertise. Bhatia offers the term 'discursive competence' to
encompass the three levels of textual, generic and social competence and
defines professional expertise as comprising the following three key
elements: discursive competence, disciplinary knowledge and professional
practice. He reaches the conclusion that professional expertise is a complex
multidimensional concept requiring a correspondingly complex approach
in studying its constitution, composition and its acquisition by members of
the discourse community. Building on Swales' (1990) six characteristics of a
discourse community, Bhatia highlights the difference of focus in discourse
communities and communities of practice and at the same time proposes
that the two concepts be integrated without surrendering the strengths of

The next section, 'The world of analytical perspectives", proposes
methodology for a thorough and insightful analysis of written discourse.
Bhatia sees the main goals of genre analysis as follows:

- to understand and account for the realities of the world of discourse
- to understand 'private intentions' within professional genres
- to understand individual, organizational, professional and social identities
constructed through discursive practices within specific disciplinary cultures
- to understand how professional boundaries are negotiated through
discourse practices
- to investigate language as action in socio-critical environments
- to offer effective pedagogical solutions
- to negotiate interactions between discourse practices and professional

These goals can be realized in relation to the concepts of space proposed
earlier in the book -- textual, socio-cognitive (tactical and professional)
and social, each allowing a different analytical perspective within Bhatia's
multidimensional perspective framework: textual perspective (genre as a
reflection of discursive practices of disciplinary communities), ethnographic
perspective (genres in action, grounded in narrated insightful experiences
of expert members of the community), socio-cognitive perspective, socio-
critical perspective (historically and structurally grounded accounts of the
conditions under which genres are constructed and interpreted by
members of the discipline to achieve their typical goals). Bhatia provides a
detailed list of procedures for a multi-dimensional and multi-perspective
analysis of genre and exemplifies the methodology with a publisher's blurb.
It commences with a textual analysis and extends to the socio-cognitive
and socio-critical space, emphasizing areas of intertextuality and
interdiscursivity in order to go beyond the lexico-grammatical and
rhetorical resources into the use of the text in real life contexts and its
rhetorical performance.

The last section, 'The world of applications', looks at the power of genre as
a means to draw the line between insiders and outsiders in disciplinary
communities. Bhatia emphasizes that one of the principal concerns in genre
theory is the study of the constraints on genre creation, the power it gives
to insiders of a discourse community and the way this power is exploited to
accomplish novel aims. Although generic forms demonstrate delicate
variation, they tend to observe the basic generic features. Bhatia illustrates
how disciplinary communities preserve the generic identity of their
discourse within academic and legal cultures. In this concluding section he
also discusses recontextualization of written discourse in the same or in
another language, canvassing for easification procedures that keep the
communicative purpose of the source text intact -- a concept and
procedure he suggested in previous work (Bhatia 1983).

In the last chapter of the book some considerations pertaining to applied
linguistics are discussed, namely: the extent to which pedagogical practices
should reproduce the real world of written discourse, how generic integrity
and generic creativity can be reconciled, and whether analytical procedures
should account for the full realities of the world of discourse. Bhatia
highlights important issues, conflicts, alternatives and prospects connected
with the development of language curriculum and methodology,
disciplinary conflicts, and analytical options, appealing for a shared vision
that corresponds to both the discourse community and the pedagogic

Genre analysis has spawned a series of studies over the last 15-20 years
and has been widely used in the context of English for specific purposes
(ESP) as a link between the basic concerns of text and discourse analysis
and ESP needs, supplying a basis for elaborating materials for classroom
use, for syllabus design and needs analysis. Initially it was considered to be
tied with pedagogic concerns (cf. Dudley Evans 1987, Hyland 1992). Bhatia
argued for combining language insights with socio-cognitive and cultural
considerations in his 1993 book 'Analysing Genre: Language Use in
Professional Settings'. In the present book he argues again that these
factors contribute to genre construction, interpretation, use and
exploitation. The novelty in his approach is the attempt to move the focus
from a predominantly pedagogic direction to studying genres in their
professional and organizational contexts -- the real worlds of written
discourse. A different concept of genre thus follows -- it is not considered
as something pure with distinctly established boundaries and limits,
necessarily attributed to a specific discourse community. This tension
between mixing and embedding of genres and yet preserving their generic
integrity is the key to how professional expertise is acquired and this has
not been put forth in available literature. Researchers and practitioners
have not so far accounted for this intricacy of genres in such a
comprehensive and thorough manner as it is examined and presented in
the book. Bhatia considers genres in all their complexity: vertically as super-
genres and sub-genres, horizontally as genre sets, and their interrelations
and relatedness to features of context. In order to become a competent
professional, one must take into consideration the integration of
disciplinary with discursive knowledge as well as the discursive practices in
professional contexts.

Throughout the book Bhatia substantiates his claims by offering ample
illustrative examples. It is lucidly written and well-structured. I would have
preferred to see the author's definition of certain terms, such as
interdiscursivity, for example and also a better argued explanation for the
division of domain-specific genres into genre sets, genre systems and
disciplinary genres. There are a few repetitions and unexpected and
unnecessary changes in the I/we perspective. However, these are minor
issues and do not detract in the least from the values of the work.

Within the study of genre several traditions can be delineated. The North
American school (Freedman and Medway, Berkenhotter and Huckin) focus
on the interrelations between text and context and consider genre as
dynamic and unstable, while the Australian school (Halliday, Kress, Ventola,
Martin) emphasize more on textual characteristics and hold the view that
generic integrity is attainable and stable. Bhatia follows a third path
building on the traditions of the genre analysis established by John Swales
and bridges the gap between the other two schools, maintaining that
generic integrity is not static but developing in concordance with a
particular generic event.

The book is a brilliant contribution to the study of genre analysis. It
establishes a comprehensive methodology for further research in the field.
Bhatia proves once again his expertise in elaborating a multidimensional
approach for analysis of the intricacies of academic, professional and
institutional discourse and offers new perspectives and insights of how the
real world of written discourse is represented by the generic structuring of


Bhatia, Vijay (1983) Simplification v. Easification -- The Case of Legal Texts,
Applied Linguistics, vol. 4, No. 1, 42-54.

Bhatia, Vijay (1993) Analysing Genre- Language Use in Professional
Settings, London: Longman.

Dudley-Evans, A. (1987) Genre analysis and ESP, ELR Journal, Vol.1, The
University of Birmingham, 1-9.

Hyland, Ken (1992) Genre Analysis; just another Fad? Forum, vol. 30, 2.

Scollon, Ron & Bhatia, Vijay & Li, David & Yung, Vicki (1999). Blurred Genres
and Fuzzy Identities in Hong Kong Public Discourse: Foundational
Ethnographic Issues in the Study of Reading. Applied Linguistics 20/1:22-

Swales, John (1990) Genre Analysis. English in Academic and Research
Settings. Cambridge University Press.


Diana Yankova has a PhD in Linguistics and teaches legal English and
culture studies at the Applied Linguistics Department, New Bulgarian
University. Her research interests are in discourse analysis, points of
convergence between legal studies and linguistics, approximation of
legislation, North American culture studies.

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