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Author stance in theme position: disciplinary variation in a corpus of assessed UG student writing


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Title: Author stance in theme position: disciplinary variation in a corpus of assessed UG student writing

Author stance in theme position disciplinary
variation in a corpus of assessed UG student
  • Paul Wickens
  • BAWE Project
  • ESRC RES-000-23-0800

The British Academic Written English Corpus
  • Part of the ongoing ESRC-funded project An
    investigation of genres of assessed writing in
    British Higher Education (RES-000-23-0800 )
  • Collaboration between Oxford Brookes, Warwick and
    Reading Universities
  • Collection of 3,000-3,500 student assignments at
    Undergraduate and Masters level all marked gt60
    (Merit and Distinction)
  • Four disciplinary groupings
  • Arts Humanities
  • Medical Life Sciences
  • Physical Sciences
  • Social Sciences

  • Departments
  • English studies
  • Anthropology
  • Texts
  • 21 assignments per department
  • Across 3 years of UG programme
  • Designated by contributors as essays
  • Interviews
  • 3 members of staff per department
  • Semi-structured (30-45 mins, recorded)

Thematic choice, stanceand disciplinary variation
  • 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 2005a
  • Aims
  • investigate disciplinary differences and/or
    similarities in the thematic choices of students
    academic writing.
  • explore reasons why student writing within the
    disciplines shows different or similar tendencies
    in terms of point of departure of the message.

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
    2004 83)
  • Experiential may contain fronted hypotactic
    clauses and experiential elements which do not
    fill participant roles (mainly circumstantial
    adjuncts)" (North 2005a 438)
  • Interpersonal typically expresses the speaker's
    "own angle on the matter in hand" (Halliday 2004
    84) Includes modal adjuncts, projection and
    Interpersonal metaphor.

Orienting theme Orienting theme Orienting theme Topical theme Rheme
Textual Experiential Interpersonal
Of course passion, an emotion, cannot be said to physically flow

and in order for practice to be changed accordingly it is important that the results are trustworthy.
An overview of orienting themes across disciplines
Orienting theme Orienting theme Orienting theme
Textual Experiential Interpersonal
English studies 1943 t-units 20 20 12
Anthropology 2136 t-units 22 24 20
per 100 t-units
Interpersonal themes in the BAWE materialExamples
  • 1) Modal adjunct
  • Clearly, force is essential to the complete turn
    around of rebellious individuals in 1984,
  • 2) Interrogative / inversion
  • Does this leave the individual with any hope?
  • 3) Imperative
  • Consider the use of plastic gears for one stage
    of speed reduction. (BAWE0023e)
  • 4) Personal projecting clause
  • Furthermore, Milton (1999) argues that the
    present archaeological record does not show
    evidence of cooked or roasted bones. ,
  • 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.

Interpersonal themes per 100 t-units
Interpersonal theme English Studies Anthropology
personal projecting clause non-personal projecting clause modal adjunct interrogative/ inversion imperative 4.8 3.5 3.1 0.5 8.1 7.8 2.9 0.8 0.1
Total 11.9 19.7
Interpersonal themes Projection
Muir (2004) states that Researchers have shown
I propose that I believe
it is claimed for instance that The graph shows
it is clear that There is a possibility that
Adapted from Wickens 2001
Interpersonal themes projection
Personal English Studies Anthropology
Non-self 3.9 7.8
Self 0.9 0.3
total 4.8 8.1
per 100 t-units per 100 t-units per 100 t-units
Non Personal English Studies Anthropology
Non-Self 2.4 3.8
Self 1.1 4.0
total 3.5 7.8
Personal Projection
English Studies Anthropology
Non Self 3.9 7.5
Non Self Makdisi suggests that John Blades argues that John Blades notes that critic David Carroll states that Eagleton is therefore just in stating that Orwell believed that Examples Boyd and Silk suggest that Semaw (1997) points out that Richard Klein emphasizes that Tim Ingold argues that, Ingold conversely concludes that He claims for instance that Examples
Self 0.9 0.3
Self I propose that I believe I think ultimately I would suggest that I dont think I concur that We can fairly safely say that
Non-Personal Projection
English Studies Anthropology
Non-Self 2.4 3.8
external 0.7 3.0
external feminist readings of the Bible, and indeed Atwoods novel itself, demonstrate that Structuralist principals dictate that It has been suggested It is widely agreed that The study found that It can be regularly observed through the past works of Social Anthropology that
internal 1.7 0.8
internal These actions suggest This symbolises that This passage also suggests that The absence of inverted commas in his responses suggests that This example shows that This quote shows that These results seem to indicate that
Self 1.1 4.0
It seems that it is clear it is natural that There is no doubt that It seems fair to say that it is unlikely It appears that it is not surprising that
Mediated or second order learning
Laurillard claims that .
Teaching in HE is a rhetorical activity,
seeking to persuade students to change the way
they experience the world (and to) enable
students to learn the descriptions of the world
devised by others. () It is mediated learning,
allowing students to acquire knowledge of someone
elses way of experiencing the world.
Laurillard (1993) p28-29
  • Literature as point of departure Personal
    Non P (ext) Non-Self
  • arguments / debates in the literature

Orienting topical Rheme
Concurrently, Katherine Milton (1999) suggests that, using meat to supply essential amino-acids and many required micronutrients frees space in the gut for (high energy i.e. USO) plant foods (p11).
In reply, proponents of the USOs hypothesis and especially Richard Wrangham, argue that if cooked, tubers could fulfil all the dietary requirements.
  • Anthropology
  • Limited use of explicit self (P Self) (I think)
    - 0.3 per 100 t-units
  • Greater use of implicit self (NP Self) (It
    seems that) 4 per 100 t-units

It is evident that the debate is not over.
There is no doubt that an arboreal niche accounts for many characteristics specific to primates,
but evidence divides itself between the two hypotheses.
English Studies
  • Fewer Interpersonal themes (twice as many Textual
    and Experiential)
  • Extensive referencing and quotation exists but
    less projection than Soc Science discipline
    (Anthropology) literature is not key point of
  • Integrated into main clause (use of numerical
    index system)

The way in the Romantic poets revolutionised
such rational and structured ideas is abundantly
evident in William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor
Coleridges Lyrical Ballads, arguably the most
important single volume of the romantic period
which signalled a literary revolution. 1
1 Duncan Wu Romanticism An Anthology Second
Edition (Oxford Blackwell Publishing, 1998) p.189
  • In both novels the dystopic totalitarian regimes
    purport ways of living in a disturbingly
    collective manner. In the world of 1984 the
    distortion of reality by the omnipresent Big
    Brother creates a society absent of purpose and
    without the freedom of individual choice. In The
    Handmaids Tale the abundance of biblical
    imagery, and allusion to various narratives of
    the Bible generates a harrowing image of a
    futuristic patriarchal society, which legitimates
    the humiliation and enslavement of women with
    literal interpretations of scripture. However,
    what I would also argue as a key idea in both
    novels, and also feminist hermeneutics, is the
    importance of the preservation of the individual
    self within the larger, collective body. In
    particular, feminist readings of the Bible, and
    indeed Atwoods novel itself, demonstrate that
    the voices of these individuals should not, and
    will not, remain silenced.
  • Orienting themes experiential Circumstances
    relating to object of study the text
  • Literature or personal stance not often the point
    of departure
  • Stance is not explicitly attributed but it is
    averred (Sinclair , see Charles 2006)

  • In conclusion, I have argued that Heart of
    Darkness represents the modern journey to
    Foucaults argument that the objective authorial
    figure is dead, and Morvern Callar illustrates
    the outworking of the theory. The Modern subject
    fails in their search to find order and stability
    in the world and is left darkly disillusioned and
    empty. The Postmodern subject seeks to fulfil the
    self in a desperate conquest to find meaning
    and identity, a search that has become helplessly
    subjective. The individual, if Foucault is right,
    is left to act alone in a bleak world that has
    become incommunicative, de-stabilised and
    seemingly meaningless, despite their inner need
    for communication, order and morality.

Interviews English Studies
  • Develop them as reflective readers. Close
    readings of the literary texts
  • Spark of independence / originality - real
  • independence of voice, willingness to tackle
    critics head-on
  • Dislike dependence on other writers/critics
  • Primary focus of essay to establish structure /
    develop argument
  • Clarity of argument,
  • Referring to the academic Literature
  • ability to debate - no second reading "irritates
    me" (3rd yr level)
  • By the third year you expect them to engage with
    the debates in the field and make their
    standpoint on the basis of what they understand
    about the field in general. So it's about
    carrying the reading lightly, selectively,

Interviews Anthropology
  • traditional essay
  • a good tool to show understanding how much
    reading they have done
  • want more in-depth, more understanding more
    evidence of them reading for their degrees -
    synthesis would be a good word.
  • Theoretical framework should be used in the
  • Structure

  • Averral and Attribution need to be understood
    within the context of the discipline
  • Interplay is important between them
  • Tendencies not absolutes (not prescriptions for
    EAP) - much variation and the issue of saliency
    v. frequency

  • Charles, M. 2006. The Construction of Stance in
    Reporting Clauses A Cross-disciplinary Study of
    Theses Applied Linguistics 27/3. 492-518.
  • Fries, P. H. 1994. On Theme, Rheme and Discourse
    Goals. In Coulthard, M. (ed.) Advances in Written
    Text Analysis. London/ New york Routledge.
  • Halliday, M.A.K. 2004. An Introduction to
    Functional Grammar. 3rd edition, revised by
    C.M.I.M. Matthiessen. London Arnold.
  • Hyland, K. 2005. Stance and engagement a model
    of interaction in academic discourse. Discourse
    Studies 7 (2). 173-192.
  • Laurillard, D. (1993). Rethinking University
    Teaching - a Framework for the Effective Use of
    Educational Technology. London Routledge.
  • Mauranen, A. 1993. Theme and Prospection in
    Written Discourse. In Baker, M., G. Francis and
    E. Tognini-Bonelli (eds.) Text and Technology. In
    Honour of John Sinclair. Philadelphia /
    Amsterdam John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  • Nesi, H., S. Gardner, R. Forsyth, D. Hindle, P.
    Wickens, S. Ebeling, M. Leedham, P. Thompson, and
    A. Heuboeck. 2005. Towards the compilation of a
    corpus of assessed student writing An account of
    work in progress. In Danielsson, P. and M.
    Wagenmakers (eds.) Proceedings from The Corpus
    Linguistics Conference Series, Vol. 1, no. 1.
  • 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