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Interpersonal themes and author stance in student writing. Signe Oksefjell Ebeling (University of Oslo) ICAME 30, 2009. The British Academic Written English Corpus (BAWE). ESRC-funded project (2004-2007): An investigation of genres of assessed writing in British Higher Education

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interpersonal themes and author stance in student writing

Interpersonal themes and author stance in student writing

Signe Oksefjell Ebeling (University of Oslo)

ICAME 30, 2009

the british academic written english corpus bawe
The British Academic Written English Corpus (BAWE)
  • ESRC-funded project (2004-2007): An investigation of genres of assessed writing in British Higher Education
  • Collaboration between Oxford Brookes, Reading and Warwick Universities
  • 2,761 assignments (approx. 6.5 million words)
  • Undergraduate and Masters level – all marked >60% / 2:1
  • 35 disciplines -- four disciplinary groupings:
    • Arts & Humanities
    • Medical & Life Sciences
    • Physical Sciences
    • Social Sciences
background
Background

The literacy practices of a disciplinary community embody different orientations to knowledge constructions […] The initial constituent of the clause appears to have particular significance in the way it reflects the writer's beliefs and values, and thus provides an indicator of disciplinary difference in professional academic writing. (North 2005: 435)

The way in which authors "intrude to stamp their personal authority onto their arguments or step back and disguise their involvement" (Hyland 2005: 176).

analytical framework
Analytical framework
  • T-unit: "an independent clause together with all hypotactically related clauses which are dependent on it" (Fries 1994: 229)
  • Topical theme: typically fills a participant role within the clause and is most commonly found to be the grammatical subject (or the subject of the main proposition)
  • Orienting theme: the elements preceding the topical theme
    • Textual – makes "explicit the way the clause relates to the surrounding discourse" (Halliday & Matthiessen 2004: 83)
    • Experiential – may contain fronted hypotactic clauses and “experiential elements which do not fill participant roles (mainly circumstantial adjuncts)" (North 2005: 438)
    • Interpersonal – typically expresses the speaker's "own angle on the matter in hand" (Halliday & Matthiessen 2004: 84), and is thus most likely to contain elements expressing stance.
interpersonal themes
Interpersonal themes
  • 1) Modal adjunct
  • Clearly force is essential to the complete turn around of rebellious individuals in 1984, (BAWE3003c)
  • 2) Interrogative / inversion
  • Does this leave the individual with any hope? (BAWE3003c)
  • 3) Imperative
  • Consider the use of plastic gears for one stage of speed reduction. (BAWE0023e)
  • 4) Personal projecting clause
  • In both novels, Orwell suggests that every system of power will inevitably abuse the use of language as mechanisms of control, (BAWE3007a)
  • 5) Non-personal projecting clause
  • It is possible that this is more than a criticism of the Bible itself but of the “canonizing process”, which Ostriker also argues has “throughout history rested, not accidentally but essentially, in the silencing of women.” (BAWE3006k)
previous study ebeling wickens 2006
Previous study (Ebeling & Wickens 2006)
  • Previous study of thematic choices and stance in undergraduate writing
  • 48 assignments from four disciplines: English studies (AH), Engineering (PS), Health and social care (MLS), and Anthropology (SS) – (approx. 5,500 t-units)
  • Revealed disciplinary differences in the expression of stance, particularly in terms of interpersonal projection
slide8

Original study

Table 1 Distribution of interpersonal themes in the four disciplines per 100 t-units

this study
This study
  • Expands the empirical base in two disciplinary groupings:
    • Arts & Humanities (History, 12 assignments)
    • Social Sciences (Business, 12 assignments)
  • Investigates further the discrepancy found between these two broad disciplinary groupings (as represented in the original study by English studies and Anthropology)
  • Main focus on interpersonal projecting clauses in 48 assignments from AH and SS

Does the difference in use of interpersonal themes in the expression of stance represent a more general tendency of broader disciplinary groupings rather than variation between individual disciplines?

slide11

Muir (2004) states that

Researchers have shown that

non-self

personal

I propose that

I think

self

projection

external

These actions suggest

Figure 2 shows that

non-self

internal

non-

personal

It is clear that

There appears to be

self

Figure 1 Projection framework (based on Hunston (1993), Wickens (2001))

table 3 distribution of pers projecting clauses in a h vs ss per 100 t units
Table 3 Distribution of pers. projecting clauses in A&H vs. SS per 100 t-units

Personal

Merrigi and Lovari state that shepherds originally tolerated the wolf, … (BAWE – Anthr. 3001h)

table 4 distribution of non pers projecting clauses in a h vs ss per 100 t units
Table 4 Distribution of non-pers. projecting clauses in A&H vs. SS per 100 t-units

Non-personal

… this implies that a company drawn abroad by market opportunities is often exposed to new technologies …(BAWE – Business 0253f)

anthropology
Anthropology
  • Draws first and foremost on the people/ authors/authorities as point of departure (personal/non-self)
  • Lack of explicit self (personal/self).

Example of ‘pattern’ or clusters of interpersonal theme (projection): Personal Non-Self: arguments in the literature

business
Business
  • Non-personal/non-self strategy, without explicitly attributing beliefs to people/authors.
  • Lack of self (non-personal as well as personal).
  • Example of ‘pattern’ or clusters of interpersonal theme (projection): Non-personal/non-self: arguments outside literature, external and internal to text.
slide16
Answer to RQ of whether the use of interpersonal themes in the expression of stance represents a more general tendency of broader disciplinary groupings rather than variation between individual disciplines?

No, at least the use of projecting clauses to express stance seems to be tied to individual disciplines rather than to broader disciplinary groupings. This is particularly evident in the disciplines representing the Social Sciences. [The A&H disciplines investigated here are more similar in this respect than their SS counterparts.]

findings show and support the view that
Findings show and support the view that …
  • … although stance may be "one of the most challenging tasks that faces the apprentice writer" (Charles 2006: 514), writers with different disciplinary backgrounds attempt to highlight their own views and attitudes in accordance with the practices of the discipline they feel part of (Charles 2006; North 2003, 2005).
references
References
  • Charles, M. 2006. The construction of stance in reporting clauses: A cross-disciplinary study of theses. Applied Linguistics 27/3: 492-518.
  • Ebeling, S. O. and P. Wickens. 2006. Author stance in theme position: variation across disciplines and years in a corpus of assessed student writing. Paper presented at the BAAHE Conference, Leuven University, Belgium.
  • Fries, P. H. 1994. On theme, rheme and discourse doals. In Coulthard, M. (ed.) Advances in Written Text Analysis. London/ New york: Routledge.
  • Halliday, M.A.K. and C.M.I.M. Matthiessen. 2004. An Introduction to Functional Grammar. 3rd edition. London: Hodder Arnold.
  • Hunston, S. 1993. Projecting a sub-culture: The construction of shared worlds by projecting clauses in two registers. In Graddol, D., L. Thompson, and M. Byram (eds.) Language and Culture. Clevedon: BAAL and Multilingual Matters. 98-112.
  • Hyland, K. 2005. Stance and engagement: a model of interaction in academic discourse. Discourse Studies7/2: 173-192
  • North, S. 2003. Emergent Disciplinarity in an Interdisciplinary Course: Theme Use in Undergraduate Essays in the History of Science. PhD Dissertation. The Open University.
  • North, S. 2005. Disciplinary variation in the use of theme in undergraduate essays. Applied Linguistics 26/3. 431-452.
  • Wickens, P. 2001. Computer Based Learning and Changing Legal Pedagogic Orders of Discourse in UK Higher Education: A Comparative Critical Discourse Analysis of the TLTP materials for Law”. PhD Dissertation, University of Warwick.
the bawe corpus
The BAWE corpus
  • The British Academic Written English corpus http://www.coventry.ac.uk/researchnet/d/505

BAWE was developed at the Universities of Warwick, Reading and Oxford Brookes under the directorship of Hilary Nesi and Sheena Gardner (formerly of the Centre for Applied Linguistics [previously called CELTE], Warwick), Paul Thompson (Department of Applied Linguistics, Reading) and Paul Wickens (Westminster Institute of Education, Oxford Brookes), with funding from the ESRC (RES-000-23-0800).

  • Corpus files available from the Oxford Text Archive http://ota.ahds.ac.uk/
  • Online versions of the corpus available through:
    • Coventry University (http://www.coventry.ac.uk/bawe)
    • Sketch Engine (http://www.sketchengine.co.uk/)