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Argument or evidence? Disciplinary variation in the use of the Noun that pattern in stance construction

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... that occurs in the complement clause. In fact, Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad, and Finegan (1999) state that such nouns are one of the primary devices used to mark stance in academic prose. In the present paper, a detailed ...
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  Argument or evidence? Disciplinary variation inthe use of the Noun  that  patternin stance construction Maggie Charles  * Oxford University Language Centre, 12 Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6HT, United Kingdom Abstract This paper uses a corpus approach to investigate disciplinary variation in the construction of stance using nouns which are followed by  that  and a complement clause, e.g.  the argument thatthe Justices exhibit strategic behaviour . . .  Two corpora of theses written in English are examined:approximately 190,000 words in politics/international relations and 300,000 words in materials sci-ence. The Noun  that  pattern is found to be over three times as frequent in the politics/internationalrelations corpus as in the materials corpus. Analysis by the source of the proposition in the comple-ment clause shows that this difference is due to the fact that many nouns in the politics corpus referto propositions put forward by political entities (e.g.  British concern that the public statement mightlead to a reaction against the West . . . ), a use which has no equivalent in the materials corpus. Fol-lowing Francis, Hunston, and Manning (1998), nouns are analysed into semantic groups. Combininganalysis by proposition source and by noun group shows that the politics writers primarily use ARGUMENT  nouns (e.g.  argument, assertion ) to take a stance towards others’ research. By contrast,the writers in materials science tend to use  EVIDENCE  nouns (e.g.  evidence, observation ) to evaluatetheir own research. It is argued that this variation is due to interdisciplinary differences in researchpractices and the construction of knowledge.   2006 The American University. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. 0889-4906/$30.00    2006 The American University. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.esp.2006.08.004 * Tel.: +44 1865 283360; fax: +44 1865 283366; tel./fax: +44 1491 651723 (H). E-mail address:  maggie.charles@lang.ox.ac.uk.English for Specific Purposes 26 (2007) 203–218 www.elsevier.com/locate/esp E NGLISH FOR  S PECIFIC P URPOSES  1. Introduction Over the last two decades within the field of applied linguistics, considerable contrastivework on a number of disciplines and genres has established that academic discourse variesaccording to discipline. Starting with the ground-breaking work of  Bazerman (1988) onresearch articles, discourse features have been linked to the cultures and epistemologiesof the disciplines and the knowledge-building practices of a given disciplinary communityhave been shown to be embodied in its texts (see for example, Berkenkotter & Huckin,1995; Hyland, 2000, 2005; Myers, 1990). Disciplinary culture has also been shown to bea key factor determining the way in which stance and evaluation are constructed (e.g.Charles, 2006; Dressen, 2003; Hunston, 1989, 1993; Hyland, 1999; Hyland & Tse, 2005;Stotesbury, 2003; Tucker, 2003). In particular, the role of nouns in the discourse of thedisciplines has been examined including work on nominalisation in science and historytextbooks (Martin, 1991) and research on grammatical subjects in research articles frompsychology, history and literature (MacDonald, 1992).One group of nouns has attracted considerable attention. Based on the category of ‘gen-eral nouns’ first identified by Halliday and Hasan (1976), these are abstract nouns whose specific meaning must be supplied by the immediate co-text. An example is given in (1) 1 ,where the specific meaning of the noun  argument  is provided by the information in thecomplement clause:  the Justices exhibit strategic behaviour in their decision making  .(1)  . . . this is entirely consistent with the  argument that  the Justices exhibit strategicbehaviour in their decision making. (pol5) 2 Such nouns have been analysed from several different perspectives using a number of dif-ferent definitions and terms, including ‘unspecific nouns’ (Winter, 1982), ‘anaphoricnouns’ (Francis, 1986), ‘labels’ (Francis, 1994) and ‘carrier nouns’ (Ivanic ˇ, 1991). Cha-racterising these nouns by their associated lexico-grammatical patterns, Hunston andFrancis (1999, p. 185) introduce the term ‘shell nouns’ and argue that they constitute apossible new word class. However, the most comprehensive treatment to date is that of Schmid (2000), who uses a corpus of 225 million words from the Bank of English in orderto identify and describe ‘shell nouns’ and examines them from both a theoretical and afunctional perspective. He distinguishes shell nouns according to three criteria: semanti-cally, they ‘characterise’ chunks of information of clause length or longer; cognitively, theylead to ‘temporary concept formation’ by the reader; finally, in terms of text connection,they form a link to the stretch of text they refer to and thereby carry out a discourse-organising function (Schmid, 2000, p. 14).Two studies have investigated the use of these nouns in English academic discourse.Concentrating on the connective function, Flowerdew (2003) uses the term ‘signallingnouns’ and provides a systematic account of the way in which they create textual links,both across and within clauses. Charles (2003) focuses on shell nouns that occur in a singlelexico-grammatical pattern ( This  N in sentence initial position). She shows how the choiceof noun enables writers to incorporate their own evaluations into the text and thus 1 All examples come from the corpora described in the following section. 2 Each example is coded by corpus and thesis. A list of theses and codes is given in the Appendix.204  M. Charles / English for Specific Purposes 26 (2007) 203–218  contributes to the construction of an appropriate disciplinary stance. Since both the con-nective and the evaluative functions performed by shell nouns are essential to successfulacademic writing, it is necessary to refine and extend our knowledge of these nouns andthe rhetorical functions they are used to perform.Nouns with  that -clause complementation, the subject of this study, constitute an impor-tant group of shell nouns, particularly with regard to the construction of stance, since theuse of this pattern enables writers to give their comment on the proposition that occurs inthe complement clause. In fact, Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad, and Finegan (1999)state that such nouns are one of the primary devices used to mark stance in academicprose. In the present paper, a detailed examination of the Noun  that  pattern is carriedout in order to explore the inter-relation of stance and disciplinarity in two contrastingfields. 2. Corpora and data analysis The study draws on two corpora of theses written by native-speakers of English in twocontrasting disciplines: a social science (politics/international relations) and a natural sci-ence (materials science). The politics corpus is composed of eight MPhil 3 theses, amount-ing to about 190,000 words, while the materials corpus holds eight doctoral theses,totalling approximately 300,000 words 4 . In order to retrieve all instances of Noun  that ,a search on the word  that  was carried out using WordSmith Tools software (Scott,1999). The resulting concordance lines were examined and instances of the pattern wereidentified. Examples in which the noun is separated from  that  are included in this analysis(e.g.  . . . the  suggestion  by Chou En Lai   that  Nasser should consider . . . ). 3. Results Significant disciplinary variation was found in the occurrence of the pattern: the politicscorpus has over three times as many instances as the materials corpus, with a frequency of 200 per 100,000 words as against 61.7 per 100,000 words in the materials corpus( v 2 :  p  < 0.001) (see Table 1).I return to comment in detail on this discrepancy in Section 7; first, however I deal withsome general stance functions of the Noun  that  pattern and examine the nouns that occur. 4. Stance functions of nouns with a  that  -clause complement 4.1. Constructing stance through the choice of noun The use of the Noun  that  pattern encapsulates the proposition in the complementclause, summarising and re-presenting it to the reader. This enables the writer to incorpo-rate his/her own stance towards the proposition through the choice of the noun. Both atti-tudinal and epistemic stance nouns (Biber et al., 1999) are found in this data, although thelatter are more frequent in both corpora: approximately 80% of nouns construct epistemic 3 The MPhil is a 2-year graduate degree comprising both taught courses and individual research leading to a30,000 word thesis. 4 The size difference between the corpora is due to the difference between MPhil and DPhil thesis requirements. M. Charles / English for Specific Purposes 26 (2007) 203–218  205  stance in the politics corpus and over 90% in the materials corpus. Epistemic stance marksthe status of information, for example in terms of its level of certainty or factuality and isillustrated in (2) below, where the proposition that  there is a divergence  is held by the writerto be an  assumption . The choice of this noun, rather than, for example, ‘knowledge’, indi-cates that the writer considers this to be a proposition which is unproven:(2) This approach is based on the  assumption that  there is a divergence between theactual environment faced by decision makers . . .  and their perceptions of this envi-ronment. (pol8)Attitudinal stance indicates the writer’s personal feelings or opinions about a proposition.It is shown in example (3), where the information given in the  that -clauses is labelled neg-atively as  disadvantages :(3) This also has the  disadvantages that , currently, CMCs are very expensive and theentire turbine would also need redesigning. (mat3)However, stance is constructed not only through lexical choice, but also through the gram-matical options afforded by this pattern. 4.2. Constructing a stance in relation to the reader In this data, the majority of nouns in the Noun  that  pattern (roughly 65% in both cor-pora) are singular and occur with the definite article, a finding which is consistent with thatof  Biber et al. (1999) for academic writing. In such instances the use of the definite articlesuggests that the information is already known to the reader and this is particularly thecase where the head noun is thematised. This is illustrated in the following extract fromthe politics corpus (4). Key phrases are printed in italics:(4)  Some models of state socialization  stress the importance of   interstate rivalry  as  the keymechanism of international homogenization. Such a model of   ‘‘competitive socializa-tion’’ could be said to correspond to a realist perspective in the study of internationalrelations . . . The  notion that  interstate competition and military rivalry give rise to pressures towardsconvergence in the international realm  is by no means new. (pol1)The first two sentences of the extract explain the model of competitive socialization; inthe final sentence the use of the Noun  that  pattern re-presents this information in sum-marised form, at the same time nominalising and labelling it as a  notion . In this way thewriter is able to move the argument forward from information that is already familiar to Table 1Frequency data: Noun  that Politics MaterialsNumber of words in corpus 190,000 300,000Frequency of Noun  that  per 100,000 words 200 61.7206  M. Charles / English for Specific Purposes 26 (2007) 203–218  the reader to information that is new. As Halliday (1994) points out, one of the keyfunctions of nominalisation is the construction of argument and this is fundamentalto the accumulation of knowledge.Using the definite article and the theme position to present information as given alsoleads to a backgrounding of the stance, since information that is known to the reader isnot normally open to challenge. In this way, the Noun  that  pattern constructs a consensuswith the reader over the material discussed. However, it should be noted that the reader is  positioned   to accept the writer’s evaluation. Indeed, the semantic content of the noun may,in fact, be new. Thus, in example (4) above, the reader is positioned to accept that ‘notion’rather than, e.g. ‘belief’ or ‘argument’ is an accurate description of the information in the that -clause.Finally, the re-presenting of information responds to the reader’s need to be remindedof key points, a function which is likely to be of particular importance in thesis texts, dueto their length and complexity. Thus, the Noun  that  pattern also enables the writer to takean interactive stance towards the reader by showing themselves mindful of readerconcerns. 4.3. Constructing an ‘objective’ stance The use of the Noun  that  pattern can also facilitate the construction of a seemingly‘objective’ stance, since the writer can avoid using a person marker with the head noun.In the large majority of instances in these corpora, the stance is not directly attributedto anyone. In fact a person marker (e.g.  his; of Harold Wilson ) occurs in only about15% of instances in the politics corpus and 3% in the materials corpus. This lack of attri-bution is particularly important for the expression of stance, since the absence of a personmarker enables the writer to obscure the srcin of any evaluation that is carried out. Thismakes it more difficult for the reader to identify when the unattributed noun constructs thewriter’s subjective position and to challenge it if necessary. For example, the use of   possi-bility  in (5) below is an assessment of likelihood that  quenching will cause stresses in thecrystal.  Although we are not told so directly, it is clear from the context, that the assess-ment is made by the writer:(5) However, there is a  possibility that  quenching will cause stresses in the crystal . . . (mat6)As the noun is unattributed, the reader only infers that the writer is the one taking thisstance; thus the statement appears objective and is less open to dispute. 5. Disciplinary variation in the noun group In order to shed light on the type of stance constructed in the two disciplines, it is nec-essary to investigate the nouns that occur. Accordingly, semantic criteria are use to allo-cate nouns to five groups, following those given in Francis et al. (1998). Groups arerenamed according to the noun with the highest frequency in my data. An explanationtaken from Francis et al. (1998, pp. 108–113) with minor modifications is given belowfor each group. The examples are of nouns with the highest total frequencies in both cor-pora taken together. They are listed in order of descending frequency. M. Charles / English for Specific Purposes 26 (2007) 203–218  207
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