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Review of  Constructing Professional Discourse

Reviewer: Filippo Pecorari
Book Title: Constructing Professional Discourse
Book Author: Concepción Orna-Montesinos
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 24.1049

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This book’s main aim is the analysis of professional discourse, with particular 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 the three main chapters, as well as the key role of language in the social context under examination. The book draws on the author’s previous work, with a focus on different aspects of the construction discipline (cf. Orna-Montesinos 2008, 2010a, 2010b, 2011), and is divided into five chapters: Chapter 1 provides an introduction, Chapters 2-4 form the bulk of the volume and Chapter 5 gives a global 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 which social practices, genres and texts contribute to the construction of discourse'' (p. 4). This tripartite view of the writing process is reflected in the organization of Chapters 2-4, which respectively deal with discourse as genre, as text and as socio-professional practice.

The perspective adopted is a socio-constructionist one: social context and professional culture exert a major influence on the creation of texts and, above all, on the use of genres. In genre studies, an ethnographic analysis of the professional context is advocated, along with a textual one, to capture the influence of socio-cultural and professional practices (i.e. text-external features) on text-internal features, in the wake of Bhatia (2004). The main theoretical 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 the other main theoretical postulates. The adoption of an approach that nurtures from different disciplines is required by the complex multidimensional character 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 the members of the construction engineering community both construct and interpret textbooks'' and ''understand[ing] what 'building' means for this particular community'' (pp. 12-13).

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

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

The analysis ends with a proposal for a reconceptualization of the textbook genre: it is not only ''a summary of received disciplinary knowledge'', but also a fundamental instrument for ''acculturating the reader into the epistemology of the discipline and conversely transmitting how the authors conceive the scope of the profession'' (p. 39). The new label proposed by Orna-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 lexical relations and lexico-grammatical patterns, while the second enquires into the lexical contribute to cohesion and rhetorical aspects of discourse. The concept is the sharing of a disciplinary vocabulary among the members of a professional 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. The analysis of semantic relations is limited to hyponymy and meronymy. Hyponyms satisfy a need for specificity, which is peculiar of professional discourse: the 132 hyponyms of 'building' employed in the CTC cover five levels of hyponymy. Prototype theory and text-external factors are advocated to explain the high frequency in the corpus of entities such as houses and places of worship, with their hyponyms. The analysis of meronyms is conducted by looking at the first level of meronymy of 'building' and at the three sub-levels of hyponymy of the meronyms. All meronyms belong to the category of functional components of the building. The frequency of occurrence of meronyms is higher than that of hyponyms, thus showing that, in the textbook genre, parts of buildings require a more detailed description than types of buildings. The author goes on to study the lexico-grammatical patterns which mark hyponymy and meronymy relations, seen as a basic component of disciplinary lexical knowledge. As far as hyponymy is concerned, the pattern 'such (as)' is the most frequent, while meronymy is most frequently realized by a more implicit 'Noun Phrase (NP) + Prepositional Phrase (PP)' pattern. The first section of the chapter ends with some observations about limitations of lexical databases: many domain-specific terms, both hyponyms and meronyms of 'building', are missing. These limitations call for further lexical research on professional domains.

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

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

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

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

Value creation in disciplinary writing is tackled from two perspectives: the construction of the image of the building and of the discipline. For buildings, the author first takes into account definition and description in the CTC, while a bigger part is devoted to evaluative aspects, which make a major contribution to the disciplinary image of the building. The framework of evaluation analysis is the view of language as an ideology (cf. Kress & Hodge 1979), according to which texts are mainly social products, reflecting the ideology of the disciplinary community who writes them. Evaluation, in this framework, fulfils the basic social function of ''constructing the specific disciplinary voice of a community'' (p. 150). Evaluation is conveyed in the corpus by explicit value-laden words and co-textual implications. The main evaluation criterion for a building is the comparison with other buildings valued as good by the community. A final section deals with the presence of metaphors in construction engineering discourse: metaphor is ''a key resource in facilitating comprehension in textbooks'' (p. 158) and it might be based on discipline-specific connotations (e.g. the adjective 'green' in the construction domain). The author finally deals with the construction of the image of the discipline, mainly through the perspective of rhetorical patterns. One of the main organizational patterns of the CTC is Problem-Solution and this prevalence is explained by making reference to text-external factors: the discipline is often considered as an applied problem-solving profession, concerned with design of new buildings and conservation of old ones. Some examples are presented in which patterns connected to Problem-Solution are associated with the use of descriptive modifiers of the noun 'building' (e.g. 'historic', 'adapted').

Chapter 5 (pp. 169-180) summarizes the main results. The focus on relationships between text-external and text-internal features is reflected in many remarks: lexical choices and discourse organizing patterns are strongly constrained by disciplinary conventions and, conversely, contribute to the creation and transmission of disciplinary knowledge. The analysis of the textbook genre has brought to the fore its role both in ''content acculturation'' and in ''generic acculturation'' (p. 180) of the novices.

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

The book achieves its goal of showing the strict interdependence between text-internal and text-external features of professional discourse, using ample examples and tables with quantitative data. Moreover, the appendices contribute 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 the general purposes of the volume: the view of this genre as a form of ''social action'' (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-specific disciplinary culture: several points underline the importance of adopting a narrow point of view, rather than running the risk of over-generalization. The book recognises that the linguistic construction of knowledge (through, for example, rhetorical strategies and evaluative resources) is different across disciplinary discourses and linguistic differences are constrained by epistemological and ideological ones.

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

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

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

Berkenkotter, Carol & Thomas N. Huckin. 1995. Genre knowledge in disciplinary communication. 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 Speech 70(2). 151-167.

Orna-Montesinos, Concepción. 2008. A contribution to the lexis of construction engineering textbooks: The case of 'building' and 'construction'. Ibérica 16. 59-79.

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

Orna-Montesinos, Concepción. 2010b. The building: The problem-solving product of the construction discipline. Revista de Lenguas para Fines Específicos 15-16. 159-182.

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

Swales, John M. 1990. Genre analysis. English in academic and research settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Filippo Pecorari is a Ph.D. student at the University of Pavia (Italy). He is currently working on a thesis about textual aspects of event anaphora in written 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 the elaboration of an annotation scheme for event anaphora. His research interests are mainly focused around textual linguistics, semantics, pragmatics and computational linguistics.

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ISBN-13: 9781443836296
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