Attended and unattended this in academic writing: A long and unfinished story, JM Swales

Tags: John M. Swales, Academic Writing, sentence, students, NNS, subject position, David Charles, noun phrase, Longman, Unfinished Story, demonstrative, sentence subject, Meilan, papers, writing, Cambridge University Press, Ann Arbor, school subjects, corpus linguistics, Ken Hyland, G. Leech, English Language, Annelie Adel, perceptive readers, S. Bernardini, molten sulphur, Swales & Feak textbooks, central position, noun phrases, doctoral student, research articles, demonstrative pronoun, Christine Feak, Meilan Zhang, University of Michigan, published accounts, Frasch process, boiling point of water, Herman Frasch, research papers
Content: ESP Malaysia, Vol. 11, Dec. 2005, 1-15
© Universiti Teknologi Malaysia
Attended and Unattended "this" in Academic Writing: A Long and Unfinished Story
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Attended and Unattended "this" in Academic Writing: A Long and Unfinished Story
John M. Swales English language Institute, 401 East Liberty Street, Suite 350, Ann Arbor MI48104­2298, USA
ABSTRACT The anaphoric this occurs frequently in academic prose­around six times per 1000 words on average. In this paper, I discuss its problematics, particularly whether or not the demonstrative needs to be followed by a suitable noun phrase. This is followed by an illustrative review of attempts to deal with this word in EAP materials going back to 1971. In an attempt to put more facts on the ground, I then investigate this in a corpus consisting of research articles drawn from ten disciplines. The concordance work shows that this occurs about half of the time in clause­subject position, and of these clause­initial occurrences about a third are "unattended", or have no associated nominal. The conditions under which unattended this is permissible are then investigated, and the pedagogical consequences discussed. 1.0 INTRODUCTION The proximal anaphoric demonstratives this and these are common words in academic prose; this is particularly so in the case of the former. In Hyland's corpus of 240 research articles, this is the fifteenth most common word and these places as the thirtysecond. (In the written sections of the large British National Corpus this falls to thirtieth place.) The ubiquity of this is underlined by the fact that in the frequency list the demonstrative is preceded by the common preposition "by" and followed by the equally common preposition "on". In effect, this occurred in the Hyland corpus about six times per thousand words or, on average, about three times on a standard printed page. Like some other common function words, perhaps particularly the definite article, the use of these demonstratives can be problematic for both native and non­native speakers of English, one problem being the selection of this or it as a sentence subject. Consider the following: (1) The temperature will fall below freezing tonight. (1a) It will be as low as ­5 degrees Celsius in some areas. (1b) This may cause frost damage to plants. * Correspondence to: John M. Swales (email: [email protected])
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By and large, the basic principle that seems to be operating here is that it should be chosen if it refers to an entity­typically a noun phrase, such as "the temperature" (1a)­in the preceding discourse. In contrast, this is selected when the writer wishes to refer to a larger entity, typically an entire proposition (usually a sentence, but sometimes a clause) that has already been stated; in our case the proposition that the temperature will tonight fall below freezing (1b). In some cases, of course, the entity referred to can be considerable larger, as in: (2) This article has argued that time­travel is feasible. (3) This research tradition (as described in the first chapter) has a long history. These higher order entities are usually known as "text reference" (Halliday & Hasan, 1976) or "situational reference" (Petch­Tyson, 2000). The distinction between the use of this in (1b) and those in (2­3) is described in traditional grammar as the difference between a demonstrative pronoun and a demonstrative determiner. In this regard, Hinkel (2004) claims that "a singular demonstrative pronoun has a limited referential capacity and cannot refer to a number of referential points at one time" (p.134­135), and goes on to argue that demonstrative pronouns "can refer only to nouns, noun phrases, or clauses and cannot be used to refer to entire contexts or implied referents" (p. 139). However, Hinkel does further note that multiple reference points can be captured by a demonstrative if that demonstrative is followed by an appropriate noun, and she gives this illustration: (4) Senator Smith called members of his party useless, and this gaff is likely to cause his resignation. Sentence (4) raises a second problem for many writers: When to use a simple this, and when to follow this immediately with a noun. In the latter case, the demonstrative is said to be "attended" (Geisler et al., 1985), or "supported", or has an "associated nominal" (Jordan, 1981; Huckin & Olsen, 1991), or is followed by "a summary word" (Swales & Feak, 1994). In this paper, I will use the term "attended this" to refer to the general phenomenon, and will largely focus my attention on the singular demonstrative and its use in subject position, primarily in order to control the variables involved. However, I of course recognize that anaphoric attended this can occur in other syntactic positions, as in (5): (5) Some authors argue that people of similar background will share similar beliefs. Others, however, question this proposition. Even so, the subject position remains, as it were, the locus classicus of this device, and I will therefore concentrate on its occurrence there. The problem of using this alone as a sentence subject is partly stylistic, but mainly one of potential ambiguity. For example, consider the following: (6) Many phrasal verbs in English have both literal and idiomatic meanings, and are used in both general and highly specialized contexts. This causes problems for learners. Here, of course, it is unclear whether this refers only to the information in the second clause, or to the whole proposition. The ambiguity in (6) is sometimes known as "broad reference" (e.g. Kolln, 1999) and usually causes the composition instructor or EAP writing teacher to scribble in the margin "this what?". As Geisler et al. (1985) note, in one of the few substantial treatments of this topic, the writer is here faced with a delicate judgment call regarding a judicious economy of words (with a simple this), as opposed to a potentially ponderous but clarifying attendant noun or noun phrase (This latter complication).
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A subsequent problem that arises with attended this is the choice of an appropriate noun; in particular, whether to repeat a noun in the previous discourse, as in (7a) below, or to opt for some more abstract or more interpretative nominal, as in (7b): (7) Each chapter ends with a summary of the main points. (7a) This summary is designed to help students studying on their own. (7b) This strategy is designed to help students studying on their own. As an EAP writing teacher and materials writer, I confess that I have long encouraged my students to follow assiduously the attended this option, often by emphasizing the advantages of a more rhetorical alternative. One reason has been a belief that anything that reduces the ambiguity and obscurity of my students' writing is a positive development. A second has been a sense that a more "encapsulating" (Francis, 1986) following noun allows the writer to offer a higher­level recontextualization of the previous text; in other words, the writer can provide the reader with an interpretation of what he or she has just read. As Mauranen notes these higher­order text references "seem to serve the purpose of guiding the reader's interpretation process to match the writer's intentions" (1993: 65). A third justification derives from the perception that attended this produces a sense of a more professional style. Indeed, back in the late 1970s, I remember Dennis Ager, my Head of Department at Aston University, observing that he could usually tell whether a letter he had received had been dictated or drafted by the fact that dictated letters had many more instances of unattended this­presumably because it is hard to come up with appropriate summary words when speaking with minimal pauses. It is quite striking that the issue of this versus this + NP apparently falls outside the purview of most standard grammars of the English language, even those that are authoritative and extensive. In fact, most of the treatments focus on the subtleties of this versus that, and on anaphoric and cataphoric distinctions, as in Quirk et al. (1985) and Huddleston & Pullum (2002). The Longman Grammar (Biber et al. 1999) merely notes that "the high frequency of this/these both as determiners and as pronouns in academic prose is due to their use in marking immediate textual reference" (p.349), but there is no discussion of factors that might influence determiner rather than pronoun use. A little more information is given in The Grammar Book (Celce­Murcia & Larsen­Freeman, 1999). They quote a study by Strauss (1993), who found in a spoken corpus that 60% of the time this was attended and 40% unattended. More directly relevant to this paper, they also discuss another piece of research that looked at demonstrative determiners and pronouns in book notices and short essays published in TESOL Quarterly, but no data is given about the proportional frequencies of these two kinds of demonstrative use. However, they usefully conclude that "demonstrative usage might be quite genre specific in written discourse" (p.308) because its use was constrained in the book­notice genre while in the essay genre, stylistic and rhetorical effects could come into play. Another relevant study is Petch­Tyson (2000), who explores demonstrative expressions in English argumentative essays written by American and various groups of European university students. She found that EFL groups, apart from the French students, made lesser use of demonstratives than the Americans and were "not as successful as their native­speaking counterparts in using demonstrative anaphors to make situation reference" (p.63). More specifically, she notes that her NNS texts exhibit a more limited range of lexical items following this and are thus less successful in steering the reader toward a particular interpretation of the preceding discourse. Finally, Lenko­Symanska (2004) examined demonstrative use in the writing of two groups of Polish English majors against a reference corpus. However, she was more interested in the choice of this/these as opposed to that/those rather than in the choice of demonstrative pronoun versus demonstrative determiner; she concluded that "both groups of learners showed a strong preference for the selection of the distal rather than the proximal anaphors in comparison to the native speakers" (p.96). So, in this paper, I reflect upon my struggles with this topic over the years, first by mainly reviewing teaching materials with which I have been associated. I then turn to corpus linguistics, mainly using
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the Hyland corpus of research articles, in order to consider whether that comprehensive data indicates that I may have been overzealous in insisting on students' avoiding unattended this. I then re­examine Hinkel's (2004) and Geisler et al.'s (1985) usage distinctions for stand­alone and attended this and offer some modifications of my own. The paper closes with some reflections on the implications (if any) of non­native speaker underuse or overuse of certain linguistic features in comparison to an NS reference corpus, and on what might be the pedagogical applications behind this "long and unfinished story".
2.0 FIRST STEPS­WRITING SCIENTIFIC ENGLISH
My first published attempt to deal with attended this (more or less) occurred in Unit 8 (entitled "Experimental and Explanatory Descriptions") of Writing Scientific English, which was published in 1971, and has long been out of print except for the Japanese edition. First, there is a discussion of how the passage below is organized into two main parts: A brief scientific and historical introduction, which is followed by a summary of the main operations. Then I say, "The description is also organized in another way:" The passage and the discussion that follows are as they were in the original: In some parts of the world (sulphur deposits lie too deep) to be mined in the ordinary way. However, in about 1900 an American engineer called (Herman Frasch developed a process) for the extraction of (this deep­lying sulphur). (The Frasch process) depends on the fact that the boiling point of sulphur is only a little above the boiling point of water. The process consists of three basic operations. First, (large amounts of water are super­heated); in other words, the water is heated under pressure to above its normal boiling point. Secondly, (this super­heated water) is pumped down the well so that it (melts the sulphur). Finally, (this molten sulphur) is pumped to the surface. As the arrows show, some of the sentences are linked together by what might be called `key­phrases'. Important information given in one sentence is referred to again in a later sentence. However, in the later sentence the information is put in a less central position. This is shown below:
Central position (The verb phrase carries the information) S1 Sulphur deposits lie too deep S3 Herman Frasch developed a process S5 Large amounts of water are super­heated S6 so that it melts the sulphur
Non­central position (The noun phrase carries the information) S2 This deep­lying sulphur S4 The Frasch process S6 This super­heated water S7 This molten sulphur
(Notice also the use of this to refer back to something already mentioned.)
I can no longer remember how much I adapted the original scientific text to create the above passage, but I suspect quite a number of changes were made in order to introduce four "key­phrases" ( a term that had a very short shelf­life!) in a mere seven sentences. It is also apparent from the closing parenthetical sentence that drawing attention to "attended this" was something of an afterthought, since the main focus was on what we would now call "given/new" and "theme/rheme". It might also be noted that Halliday & Hasan's seminal Cohesion in English was not published until 1976.
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2.1 David Charles
Close to ten years later, David Charles joined our ESP team in the Language Studies Unit at Aston University in Birmingham, England. Among many other contributions, he brought with him some materials that he had developed earlier at RELC in Singapore and that he engagingly entitled "How to get out of one sentence and into another". His main example, part of which resurfaced in modified form in 2000 in English in Today's Research World, was in two parts. The first part went like this: (8) The students said they wanted more tests. (8a) This surprised the instructor. (8b) This request surprised the instructor. (8c) This request for more tests surprised the instructor. (8d) This request by the students for more tests surprised the instructor. This kind of material thus allows us to discuss with the students where­and why­we might want to draw the line (to use a distinction not precisely available to me at that time) between Geisler et al.'s (1985) economy and their clarity; in effect, how much help we might want to give the reader in terms of summing up the `new information' contained in the previous sentence; in Hallidayan terms, how solid a departure point we might want to construct for the rest of upcoming clause. Moreover, in the second part, David Charles offered something like this: (9) The students said they wanted more tests. (9a) This statement surprised the instructor. (9b) This request surprised the instructor. (9c) This demand surprised the instructor. (9d) This ultimatum surprised the instructor. (9e) This hope surprised the instructor. With this second illustration, as David explained, the writer can maneuver the reader into "reading" the previous sentence in a particular way­from a soft statement, to a harsh ultimatum, to a timid hope. In effect, the "said" of "The students said they wanted more tests" is recontextualized in various possible directions by the writer. David Charles also had some further materials that dealt with prepositional phrases associated with attended this, such as "Prior to this development,..", but I have no notes or clear recollections of these. Even so, the material that I have illustrated made a strong impression on me­so much so it has played some small part in just about every writing course that I have taught ever since.
3.0 ACADEMIC WRITING FOR Graduate students When Chris Feak and I were preparing this 1994 writing textbook, we wanted an overview opening unit that began with big­picture considerations such as getting students to think about audience and purpose and ending with small­scale issues of presentation, such as checking for spelling and minor grammatical mistakes. Immediately preceding the closing presentation section was one we entitled "flow", which we defined as "moving from one statement in the text to the next" (p.21). One of the two topics included here was linking words and phrases, such as sentence connectors; the other (unsurprisingly) was what we called "this + summary word". For the latter, we could make some indirect use of Francis' 1986 monograph on "Anaphoric Nouns". Francis argued that for a noun to be "anaphoric", it needed to meet two criteria:
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First, it must be functioning as a pro­form and as such be an anaphorically cohesive device preceding it in terms of how the writer chooses to label or interpret the latter for the purposes of his/her argument. Second, it must also face forwards; it must be presented as the given information in terms of which the new propositional content of the clause or sentence in which it occurs is formulated. (pp 3­4) We finished up with a three and a half page subsection­half a page of introductory explanation and three pages of exercises. Of the many sentence completion tasks (e.g. "Choose an appropriate summary word to fill the gap"), typically the most interesting has proved to be: (10) Early in September each year, the population of Ann Arbor, Michigan, suddenly increases by about 20,000 as students arrive for the new academic year. This __________ changes the character of the town in a number of ways. a. influx b. increase c. invasion d. rise e. jump In the usually lively discussion, consensus is generally reached that influx is the most apt choice.
4.0 ENGLISH IN TODAY'S RESEARCH WORLD In the successor textbook published six years later, the topic of this + Summary Word is considerably expanded to about double the size of the earlier treatment. However, the expansion is, at least in my view, not altogether successful. First, the section is placed within the unit that deals with the Conference Abstract, even though this concise genre is not one that makes heavy use of this structure. Second, the activities devoted to clarifying the subject­position uses of it and this, while admirable in their intent, have turned out to be less than fully helpful in actual practice. Third, an attempt was made to divide summary words into two clear types, labeled as "summarizing" and "interpretive", so that, for example, (9a) and (9b) above would be identified as the former, while (9c), (9d) and (9e) as the latter. However, it was not made clear that actual lexical items, such as demand, can of course be descriptive in one textual context but interpretive in another one. Nor is it clarified that the distinction is, at best, often quite hard to operationalize, and hence requires a skilled and experienced instructor. It should be underscored that throughout this synopsis of thirty years' experience with teaching a specifically­academic type of cohesion (with teaching one way of "getting out of a sentence and into another"), there has been no emphasis in the texts themselves on situations where simple unattended this may, in fact, be the more appropriate choice, even if instructors may on occasion discuss this option (Chris Feak, personal communication). There has been nothing like the elegant and subtle conclusion to the paper by Geisler et al.: Out of control, the unattended this points everywhere and nowhere; under control, it is the language's routine for creating a topic out of a central prediction, pointing to it, bringing it in to focus, and discussing it; all done in one stroke, gracefully, economically, and without names. (1985: 153) The effects of this benign neglect can be seen in the next episode in the story. 4.1 Meilan Zhang In Winter 2004, David Lee, the ELI's post­doctoral fellow in corpus linguistics, and I taught an experimental advanced­level course entitled "Exploring your own discoursal world" (Lee & Swales, in press). Our intention, largely realised, was to train a small volunteer group of international doctoral
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students from across the disciplines in corpus linguistics (using Wordsmith Tools, Scott, 1999) in such a way that toward the end of the course, they would have constructed a corpus of their own writings and a corpus of published papers from their sub­fields. Further, by the final class and with some help from us, they would be ready to give presentations of what they had learnt from the experience to a group of staff at the English Language Institute at the University of Michigan. One of the participants was Meilan Zhang, at that time a fourth­year doctoral student from the PRC in Educational Technology at Michigan's School of Education. For her final presentation, she discussed her findings from the two corpora she had constructed: A corpus of 32 published papers from her sub­ field and a comparison corpus of ten papers she herself had written as part of her education course work, the latter totaling some 38,000 words. One of the five topics she addressed was the use in the two corpora of the demonstrative this, both in attended and unattended contexts. She observed among other things that in her own writing she never, or almost never, used unattended this especially in clause subject position. However, as she discovered from her concordance work with published papers in educational technology, her practice turned out to be decidedly atypical. Here are the details. Of the 174 examples of this in her own corpus, a number can be stripped out because they occur in quoted transcripts from her school subjects as they engaged in her experimental web­based projects. The remaining 144 tokens contained only five examples that were not followed by a "summary" noun (3%), and only two occurred in subject position:
(11) This can be implemented by a number of approaches... (12) This is an alternative way of analyzing online inquiries...
In contrast, analysis of the use of this in the first five published articles (86,579 individual words) in her field yielded 202 tokens. As can be seen, this figure reveals a relatively smaller number of instances of this (again removing a few spoken examples) given the larger size of the corpus. However, a more relevant finding is that 51 of these 202 used "bare" this without any supporting NP­a percentage of around 25%. We can further note that 41 of these 51 unattended demonstratives occurred in clause­ initial position, and that as many as 24 of the 41 were followed by some form of the verb "to be" as a main verb (sometimes supported by modal auxiliaries), plus two instances of seemed to be. In other words, over 60% of the occurrences of subject­position unattended this have as complements the simplest of "existence" verbs (Biber et al. 1999). Another difference emerges when we consider the nature and frequency of the NPs when this is attended. In Meilan's case, the commonest choices reflect the details of her research projects and literature reviews. Here are the dominant choices in terms of number of instances:
this study
31
this group
21
this unit
7
this type (of)
7
this site
7
this review
7
Even taking into account the fact that a number of the above choices are clearly motivated by the nature of Meilan's assignments, such as literature review for this study, and this group and this site for her classroom­based research projects, the published accounts still offer something rather different. Here are the most regular choices:
this study
13
this article
8
(in) this case
8
this methodology 7
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this approach
7
this attribute
6
this process
5
If we disregard the first two metadiscoursal instances, the remainder suggest a more interpretive stance­ as indeed we might expect. Clear examples of this are the "encapsulating" uses of noun phrases such as this approach and this process.
(13) This approach gradually induces learners to make cognitive shifts. (14) This process can be categorized as dealing with multiple tasks at the same time.
In the lively discussion that followed Meilan's presentation at the end of the 2004 experimental class, Christine Feak in particular pointed out that a single author could not be expected to have the range of phraseological choices of a multi­authored sub­corpus. Even so, Chris Feak and I noted that Meilan's almost complete of avoidance of unattended this was most likely a teaching effect since she had taken (prior to ELI 630) as many as three of our writing courses since entering the graduate program in Fall 2000, wherein here and there we had both stressed the advantages of following this with a suitable summary/interpretive noun, and engaged the participants in practice exercises such as that illustrated in (10) above. So, what appeared to be a teacher­caused deviation from standard research writing practice in Meilan's texts was clearly worth further investigation.
5.0 2005 AND EVIDENCE FROM HYLAND'S CORPUS The striking difference between Meilan's 3% use of unattended this and the 25% in the published papers has led to a number of investigative forays. First, I investigated the uses of the proximal demonstrative in the four dissertation defenses collected as part of the Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE). Although straightforward comparisons with written data are probably unwarranted because of the occurrence of deictic ("pointing") uses of this in speech, the numerical outcome was clearly in the expected direction: Forty­six percent of the occurrences of this in this highly specialized sub­corpus were unattended, and 54% followed by a noun or a noun phrase. It might also be noted that in the rush of the spoken moment not all of these following NPs were highly informative; even in the putatively sophisticated environment of the dissertation defense there were, for example, five instances of this thing! Secondly, as a quick test of the Meilan data, I asked my Fall 2005 international­student class on dissertation writing and writing for publication to look for this/these in one of their own papers and in a published paper from their sub­field of specialization. Their self­reported results were not checked and the instructions could have been clearer. Despite these limitations, it seemed obvious that this group of mostly senior PhD students were approximating, at least in quantitative terms, to the published texts much more closely than in Meilan's case. Student and published figures for unattended and attended this were 33% and 30% respectively, and for these 13% and 15%. Clearly, these are not significant differences. However, the findings from the Mechanical Engineering student suggested that this field might be an outlier since his own figure for unattended this was 66%, while it only fell to 56% in the published paper he analyzed (a percentage in fact fairly close to that found in the spoken MICASE data). Finally, Chris Feak (personal communication) observed that her impression from scrutinizing medical research articles from thoracic surgery was that in this field stand­alone this was comparatively common. In order to get a clearer picture of how attended and unattended this patterns in research articles, and what might be predisposing factors for not using an accompanying noun, my research assistant, Jennifer McCormick, and I have examined these patterns in Hyland's corpus of 240 research articles
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drawn from eight fields, and in two in­house corpora of 50 dental and 50 medical research papers. In so doing, we investigated a graded series of topics in the ten sub­corpora: (1) In each sub­corpus where did this occur in the word­frequency list? (2) In each sub­corpus, how frequent was this per 1000 words? (3) What percentage of the occurrences of this occurred as clause­initial subjects? (4) Of these clause­initial occurrences of this what percentage were stand­alone? (5) Which were the most common NPs when this in this context was attended? Of these five forays, only the third merits a little further explication. We counted this occurrences as subjects­or as parts of subject phrases­in finite clauses occurring both initially in a sentence and subsequently (as in a compound sentence). We counted them in subordinate clauses, but not in relative clauses or in that complement clauses (as in indirect speech). We also decided to discount them in (rare) interrogative sentences, or if there was extraposition of some kind, as in: (13) It is this question that is the most problematic. Some of these procedural decisions are of course debatable, but they have the merit of leading to a manageable modus operandi when faced with a large amount of complex data to be processed. The results for the first two questions are shown in Table 1:
Table 1 Word ranking of this and occurrence per 1000 words in 10 disciplines
Field
Word­ranking per 1000 words Total tokens # of `this'
Dentistry
16
Medicine
17
Cell Biology
24
Elec. Engineering
14
Mech. Engineering
15
Appl. Linguistics
11
Marketing
15
Philosophy
15
Sociology
14
Physics
13
5.1
134, 930
689
4.9
134, 814
667
3.8
144, 961
545
6.7
110, 835
740
5.7
115, 532
663
6.8
214, 964
1465
6.3
225, 762
1421
7.4
210, 762
1562
6.3
225, 806
1414
7.0
99, 986
700
As can be seen, the word rankings are closely­and strikingly­grouped around the fifteenth position norm, except for Applied Linguistics and cell biology; in the latter case, it falls to as low as 24th. In terms of frequency per 1000 words, this was (again) least frequent in cell biology followed by medicine, and most frequent in philosophy followed by physics and applied linguistics. Physics aside, this seems to be somewhat more frequently used in the social science and humanities texts, perhaps reflecting a somewhat more informal writing style (certainly in philosophy) and the inclusion of a certain amount of transcript data and conversational quotation in some of these texts. If we now turn to Questions (3) and (4), we can see how many occurrences of this occurred in clause­initial position, and of these, how many were stand­alone:
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Table 2 Percentages of clause­initial this, and unattended this as subject
Field Dentistry Medicine Cell Biology Elec. Engineering Mech. Engineering Appl. Linguistics Marketing Philosophy Sociology Physics
% clause­initial 59 51 50 53 56 43 54 43 46 50
% of these clause­ initials unattended 25 26 31 34 35 33 38 56 38 42
These figures are quite interesting. First, in terms of Question (3), the inter­disciplinary variation is quite muted­and certainly less than might have been anticipated from Hyland's own explorations of this corpus (e.g. Hyland, 2000). Around half of the uses of the singular proximal demonstrative occur in finite clause subjects, thus confirming the widespread employment of this device as a way of "getting out of one sentence and into another". The outliers here are a low of 43% in applied linguistics and philosophy and a high of 59% in dental research. As for the fourth question, the average percentages for unattended this hover around one­third, being lowest in the life/Health Sciences and highest (by some way) in philosophy, the only field to exceed 50% and thus to approximate to the spoken data from the MICASE dissertation defenses. As Michigan's Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy observed in interview, "a certain looseness of language in philosophy is permitted as long as there is tightness of thought" (Alan Gibbard, personal communication). Finally, in this larger sample, the implication from the student's research reported earlier that mechanical engineering is an outlier is disconfirmed, as is Chris Feak's hunch that medical research papers might have above­ average occurrences of unattended this; in fact, the data suggests rather the opposite. The final question in this quantitative part of the results deals with noun choice in the NP. Here the data deals with the noun following this even though it may not be the only noun in the subject NP complex; in other words, I will treat "This study" and "The purpose of this study" as two cases of this study. In the table below, the five most frequent nouns for each discipline are listed, along with their number of tokens. (In cases of parity, the noun which alphabetically appeared first is listed.)
Table 3 Most frequent nouns attending this
Dentistry Medicine Biology Elec. Eng. Mech. Eng. App. Ling. Marketing Philosophy Sociology Physics
Study (76) Study (66) Result (14) Approach (14) Paper (17) Study (47) Study (31) Account (10) Article (15) Effect (9)
Finding (15) Result (5)
Group (8)
Difference (7)
Observation (7) Study (6)
Algorithm (11) Method (10)
Method (8)
Approach (7)
Result (10)
Experiment (9)
Paper (22)
Cluster (13)
Article (8)
Argument (6)
Model (10)
Paper (10)
Approach (7) Behavior (5)
Patient (5)
Process (5)
Procedure (5) Technique (4)
Difference (5) Finding (5)
Paper (8)
Technique (5)
Type (7)
Figure (6)
Difference (8) Finding (8)
Approach (12) Research (12)
Conclusion (6) Claim (5)
Process (9)
Group (6)
Contribution (5) Figure (5)
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Attended and Unattended "this" in Academic Writing: A Long and Unfinished Story 11
These "Top 50" nouns fall into a number of categories. As many as 12 are metadiscoursal (study/ article/paper/account); a quick survey showed that most of these were used to refer to the research article itself, while a few were intertextual, i.e. they refer to some other study. In second place are nouns that refer to method (method, technique, procedure, process); there are seven instances of these, to which we can probably add the four listings of approach in Table 3. Nouns that refer to results (result/ finding) can be found in six spots, while difference turns up among the five commonest nouns in three disciplines. Scanning the table suggests that there is fair degree of convergence among many of the disciplines, except for philosophy and physics, which appear to have their own preferences, perhaps as a result of their more abstract nature. In English in Today's Research World (2000), we suggested that the this­attended NP could be quite complex, as in "This deep­lying sulphur" from 1971 (!). In a sophisticated genre such as the published research article, such complex NPs are only to be expected, if only because of the rhetorical work they can be asked to undertake. If, for example, we explore the occurrences of this study in the medical sub­corpus, this picture emerges:
Total occurrences of this study
66
this study alone as subject
32
the purpose/aim/goal/objective of this study
11
the ...patients.. in/included in..this study
9
...limitation of this study
5
the results of this study
5
Other
4
As these figures indicate, approximately half of the occurrences of this study are found as post­ modifications of a preceding NP. In fact, it is well worth noting that subject noun-phrases containing a demonstrative can be semantically and syntactically complex. Below are single instances of these more elaborated usages from each of the ten disciplines:
This atypical behavior of poloxamer 407... (Dentistry) However, the prognosis of this postoperative complication... (Medicine) This constitutive expression of aliinase MRNA... (Cell Biology) This quest for ever higher performance and... (Elec. Engineering) This underflow withdrawal flux... (Mech. Engineering) The integration of this metatheoretic point into pragmatic inquiry... (Linguistics) The salient metaphoric image of this dominant discourse...(Marketing) The problem with this austere version of Platonism... (Philosophy) One path around this apparent theoretical impasse... (Sociology) Since the almost-saturated part of this magnetization... (Physics)
5.1 Unattended "this": Looking for Explanations If the ten complex noun phrases listed immediately above represent one end of a continuum, the other is represented by the use of unattended this, which as we saw from Table 2 was chosen about a third of the time. The next topic for this paper, therefore, is to try and delineate the circumstances when opting for stand-alone this may be opportune. First, let us consider a few of the 60-odd instances of clause-initial "This is..." in the physics sub-corpus: (15) One of the main restrictions limiting the minimum diffusion time and the gradient pulse length of an experiment is the rise-time of the field gradient pulse. This is typically several hundred microseconds...
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Here the content of the partial second sentence clearly indicates that this must refer to "the time-rise of the field gradient pulse" rather than the more general experimental restrictions. It is likely that the author, in order to communicate the latter, would have needed to have written something like: (15a) This limitation can be partly avoided by... Thus far then Hinkel's identification of unattended this with a single or simple clausal or sub-clausal entity is borne out. We can further note that the relevant antecedent entity is itself proximal to the demonstrative, thus being encompassed by Brown & Yule's "principle of local relevance" (1983) whereby, under normal circumstances a deictic is interpreted in terms of the immediately preceding option. However, now consider (16): (16) In recent years planar waveguide structures with longitudinally- or transversely-magnetised ferrite materials have received increasing attention as phase shifters, isolators and circulators. This is due to their potential advantages: a)... In this case, what is being referred to here is the phenomenon of "increasing attention", and in fact (16) could, at least in theory, have been spelled out as: (16a) This recent increasing attention to using planar waveguide structures with longitudinallyor transversely-magnetised ferrite materials as phase shifters, isolators and circulators is due to their potential advantages: a) ease of integration.... It turns out that about a third of the physics examples are like (15), often used when the "small" antecedent is some number or value, as in: (17) This reduction in the stored energy...is therefore 31%. This is comparable with the reduction found by others (1, 2) for an... Another third clearly refer to the larger sentential conceptualization; often these uses of stand-alone this refer to some correlation or generalization about the variables: (18) In relative terms, however, the width of this peak will decrease as the numbers of oscillators and energy units increase. This is already apparent in comparing Figures 1 and 3. However, there is a final third that do not fit the explanations offered so far; this is because the unattended this refers to some partial element in the preceding sentence that does not occur in final position. Here are two examples: (19) As in the case of circular cylinder coils (7), very high accuracy is required in evaluating the integrals in Equation (33), if reliable numbers of the Langrange multipliers are to be obtained. This is especially true if, as in our case, a large number of target points are used. (20) The third term of Equation (21), i.e. Ahkl, is an inherent parameter and was first pointed out by Kasuya and LeCraw [24]. This is determined by the processes... To understand what is going on here, it is necessary to review the arguments put forward by Geisler et al. in their pioneering 1985 article. Although their illustrations are taken from literary criticism and general prose (in fact well-motivated selections given their concern with freshman composition), their explication remains very helpful. Simplifying somewhat, they propose that unattended this is permissible when the central predication (i.e. the broader conceptualization) is "in focus". For them, topics are "in focus" when readers are able to anticipate that they will be picked up by the writer and carried forward into the upcoming discourse. If we now apply this insight to example (19), we can see that the focus is on the need for "high accuracy" for the integrals in the equation, rather than on the content of the subordinate conditional clause, even though that clause does terminate the preceding sentence. Further,
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Attended and Unattended "this" in Academic Writing: A Long and Unfinished Story 13 in (20), the final clause is in fact a co-ordinate main clause, but the reader will likely consider it "out of focus"-as some kind of incidental additional information. For this reason, the unattended this is not ambiguous. The final factor that would seem to favor unattended this is very different and would probably not have emerged without a large electronic database and concordancing tools. It turns out that standalone singular proximal demonstratives are more likely to occur if they are followed by verbs that are syntactically and semantically simple. Consider again the physics data. There is a total of 147 instances of unattended this, but as many as 60 of them are followed by the base verb "is", plus another six consisting of an additional modal such as "may be". This 45% proportion can be contrasted with the finding that there are only 41 instances of this existential verb following the 200 instances of attended this in the physics sub-corpus, or a proportion of only 20%. So if we return to example (16), the original seems much more acceptable than (16b) ?This can probably be ascribed to their potential advantages... Instead here the writer might well have opted for something like: (16c) This growing interest can probably be ascribed to their potential advantages... Other verb forms that seem to favor stand-alone this are indicates, means and suggests-and note that all these are in the present tense and, at least in this genre, typically offer straightforward interpretations of data. Take the case of the last of these. Although the percentage of stand-alone this in the ten disciplines is generally around 35%, when suggests is chosen it rises to just under 60% (46 out of 79 instances in the Hyland corpus). Further research on this kind of finding would clearly be helpful. 6.0 FINAL CONSIDERATIONS This study has produced a fair amount of information, much of it I suspect new, about the occurrence of this in research articles written in English. We now know, across the ten disciplinary sub-corpora investigated, how common this is, how commonly it occurs as the departure point for a clause, whether it is likely to be accompanied by an associated noun or nominal phrase, and what are the common choices for that noun. The paper has also attempted to explore the circumstances under which unattended this might be a reasonable option, with these conditions set against the background RA data indicating that stand-alone this is considerably more frequent than many, including many EAP practitioners, might have supposed. So far so good. However, Geisler et al. (1985) note that the use of anaphoric this in academic writing would largely seem to be a matter of tacit knowledge. I reluctantly conclude that twenty years later the position has not greatly changed, at least in terms of all those moments when the writer is sitting in front of the blinking cursor trying to decide on "it" versus "this", or whether "this" alone is acceptable or needs to be followed by some kind of nominal. Students, in particular, may also have been affected by instructional strictures. When I discussed this issue with a group of linguistics majors at Michigan, one said to me that using unattended this "had been drummed out of her" by her English teachers. A Korean student in my current dissertation writing class showed me one of his drafts in which he had used "This is..."; His advisor had crossed this out and written "pizza" in the margin. According to my informant, he always does this, and we presume that he does so because he believes that stand-alone this is scumbled in terms of possible antecedents just as the toppings on pizza are all scumbled. And then there is the case of Meilan and her being "encouraged" by her EAP writing instructors to always follow this with an appropriate summary word or phrase. Certainly, Geisler et al. are correct when they conclude that "Writers should make sure that opportunities for useful emphasis or additional characterization have not been lost by leaving a this
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unattended" (1985: 151). Recall the sociologist's "this apparent theoretical impasse" or the choice of "this influx" to redescribe the undergraduates flooding into Ann Arbor in early September. On the other side, should NNS students be encouraged to match the 25-56% unattended this rates of published papers in various fields? Probably not. First, there is that tacit sense of the tradeoff between economy and clarity which probably only comes with considerable writing experience. (And perceptive readers might have noticed that there is a fair amount of unattended this in this paper.) Second, the Swales & Feak textbooks are probably correct in stressing that attended this helps to give a professional cast to the text (unless apparently you are a student in philosophy). Additionally, the "overuse" of attended this by EAP students, like the "overuse" of sentence-connectors, can both help readers of such texts to process them, as well as reduce the chances of ambiguity. However, it now emerges that stand-alone this does remain an occasional option for all writers, especially when the conditions laid out in the previous section are observed. Finally, there is much evidence (e.g. Swales et al., 1998) that academic authors revising their texts for resubmission are typically trying to make their texts shorter, and one simple way of doing this is to "de-attend" instances of this. This last point raises one issue for future research; we need studies (perhaps involving think-aloud protocols) of how writers, both NS and NNS, actually negotiate their rhetorical choices when anaphoric demonstratives are in their compositional frame. A second potentially fruitful line of inquiry would be to explore demonstrative use in other major academic languages, about which we have, as far as I know, very little data. Finally, this investigation has thrown up another phenomenon lightly alluded to in the earlier commentary on David Charles' work-that of initial demonstrative prepositional phrases that have clear anaphoric functions. The Hyland corpus, for example, produced the following tokens:
In this case
119
In this way
60
In this sense
31
In this context
23
In this respect
17
But this (!) is a story for another time, perhaps for inclusion in the second edition of English in Today's Research World.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to thank Ken Hyland for the use of his corpus, Jennifer McCormick for willingly undertaking much of the quantitative analysis, and Annelie Adel for bibliographic and other assistance. The usual disclaimers apply. REFERENCES Biber, D., S. Johansson, G. Leech, S. Conrad, and E. Finegan. 1999. Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education. Brown, G., and G. Yule. 1983. discourse analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Celce-Murcia, M., and D. Larsen­Freeman. 1999. The Grammar Book. Boston: Heinle & Heinle. Francis, G. 1986. Anaphoric Nouns. English Language Research., University of Birmingam, UK. Discourse Analysis Monograph No. 11. Geisler, C., D. S. Kaufer, and E. R. Steinberg. 1985. The Unattended Anaphoric "This": When Should Writers Use it? Written Communication. 2: 129­155.
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Attended and Unattended "this" in Academic Writing: A Long and Unfinished Story 15 Halliday, M. A. K., and R. Hasan. 1976. Cohesion in English. London: Longman. Hinkel, E. 2004. Teaching Academic ESL Writing. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Huckin, T. N., and L. A. Olsen. 1991. Technical Writing and Professional Communication for Non­ nd native Speakers of English. 2 edition. New York: McGraw­Hill. Huddleston, R., and G. K. Pullum. 2002. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hyland, K. 2000. Disciplinary Discourses. London: Longman. Jordan, M. P. 1981. Some Associated Nominals in Technical Writing. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication. 11: 252­264. rd Kolln, M. 1999. Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects. 3 edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. Lee, D., and J. Swales. (in press). A Corpus­Based EAP Course for NNS Doctoral Students: Moving from Available Specialized Corpora to Self-complied Corpora. English for Specific Purposes. Lenko­Szymanska, A. 2004. Demonstratives as Anaphora Markers in Advanced Learner's English. In Corpora and language learners. Edited by G. Aston, S. Bernardini, and D. Stewart. Amsterdam: Benjamins. Mauranen, A. 1993. cultural differences in Academic Rhetoric: A Textlinguistic Study. Frankfurt: Peter Lang. Petch­Tyson, S. 2000. Demonstrative Expressions in Argumentative Discourse: A Computer Corpusbased Comparison of Non­native and Native English. In Corpus­Based and Computational Approaches to Discourse Anaphora. Edited by S. Botley and A. M. McEnery. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Quirk, R., S. Greenbaum, G. Leech, and J. Svartvik. 1985. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. Harlow, UK: Longman. Scott, M. 1999. Wordsmith Tools. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Swales, J. 1971. Writing Scientific English. London: Thomas Nelson. Swales, J. M., and C. B. Feak. 1994. Academic Writing for Graduate Students. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Swales, J. M., and C. B. Feak. 2000. English in Today's Research World: A Writing Guide. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Swales, J. M., U. K. Ahmad, Y ­ Y. Chang, D. Dressen, and R. Seymour. 1998. Consider this: The Role of Imperatives in Scholarly Writing. Applied Linguistics. 19: 97­121.
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JM Swales

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