The Use of Engagement Resources in English, Arabic, and EFL Applied Linguistics Research: A Contrastive Study Within an Appraisal Theoretic Perspective

The Use of Engagement Resources in English, Arabic, and EFL Applied Linguistics Research: A Contrastive Study Within an Appraisal Theoretic Perspective

May Mahdi Alramadan (King Faisal University, Saudi Arabia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2265-3.ch002

Abstract

This study investigates how academics from different cultural backgrounds and levels of expertise use engagement resources to align themselves and their readers towards text-external voices. Using the appraisal theory engagement model, the introduction sections of three sets of texts from Applied Linguistics were analyzed: (1) research articles published in English, (2) research articles published in Modern Standard Arabic, and (3) Master's theses of Saudi EFL students. Results revealed that English- and Arabic-speaking writers prefer different resources due to the impact of culture. Also, Arabic-based patterns appeared in EFL writing supporting the contrastive rhetoric hypothesis at the interpersonal dimension of discourse. The patterns identified had different effects on the type of authorial voice and the nature of reader power-status. The study makes implications for novice EFL academics and for tertiary academic institutions. Explicit instruction of engagement strategies can enculturate student writers into their discipline-specific rhetorical conventions.
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Introduction

The need to understand engagement in written academic discourse – that is how writers use interpersonal resources to align themselves and their readers in relation to different points of view– has been gaining increasing interest (e.g., Thompson, 2001; Mei & Allison, 2003; Hood, 2012; Lee, 2017; Xu & Nesi, 2019). This importance stems partly from recognizing that knowledge is a social consensus reached as a result of writer-reader interaction, disciplinary argument and agreement-making (Kuhn, 1962). In academic discourse, writers make new claims and challenge established knowledge. In order to demonstrate the significance of these contributions, writers do not only depend on the validity of the ideational content that they provide, but they also draw on rhetorical tactics to achieve persuasive ends. By engaging readers, writers are able to construct different types of authorial positioning including tentative, cautious, or assertive stances. These reader-engagement strategies are conventional and community-recognized and are also discipline- and genre-specific. Thus, divergence from the normal use of these strategies in their correct context would violate the expectations of the target discourse community and would eventually result in the failure to achieve the persuasive function of the text.

Among the academic genres that involve the use of rhetorical and reader-engagement devices is the introduction to research papers. Introductions are said to be “probably the best locus for investigating rhetorical strategies” (Fakhri, 2009, p. 23). That is because they shape readers’ initial impression of the work (ibid.), while convincing readers of the need for the proposed research via the use of evaluative resources (Hood, 2004; Lee, 2006).

A number of scholars have suggested that such rhetorical strategies are culture-specific (e.g., Miller, 1994; Duszack, 1997; Koutsantoni, 2005) and are also transferable through negative interference from the first language to the second language (Contrastive Rhetoric Hypothesis by Kaplan, 1966). In contrast, other researchers maintain that there is a universal rhetoric of academic writing that “imposes a conformity on members of the scientific community no matter what language they happen to use” (Widdowson, 1979, p. 61). Some researchers argue that the discipline exerts a more powerful effect than culture on the shaping of academic rhetorical practices. Flottum, et al., (2007, p. 15), for example, write, “We may say that authors of research articles tend to write more like their disciplinary colleagues writing in other languages than like their language-community co-members writing in other disciplines.” Yakhontova (2006) explains this uniformity by suggesting that globalization and the development of electronic media and other forms of cross-cultural exchange have led to the rapid importation of English academic writing patterns and their implantation in other cultures.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Reader Positioning: A writer’s use of a number of intersubjective resources to align readers with, or to get them to adopt, a particular point of view.

Writer-Reader Interaction: The notion that written discourse involves an underlying writer-reader dialogue similar to dialogues taking place in spoken interactions. The writer assumes a hypothetical reader and anticipates his/her likely reactions to adjust the text accordingly.

Voice: (1) The source to which the thoughts being discussed belong, hence, authorial voice vs. other voices; and (2) the result of the amalgamation of repeatedly co-occurring patterns of interpersonal resources, hence tentative voice vs. assertive voice.

Rhetoricity in Academic Discourse: Discourse that persuades by making its point effectively and by creating credibility for the writer.

Appraisal Theory: A theory proposed within the framework of Systemic Functional Linguistics to model the interpersonal dimension of language, i.e., to represent how writers create an evaluative stance concerning their material, construe particular authorial voices or persona and establish interpersonal relations with target readers.

Contrastive Rhetoric Hypothesis: A theory proposed by Kaplan (1966) to suggest that logic, rhetoric, and textual organization are culture-specific; therefore, the difficulties writers face writing in a second language emanate from rhetorical differences between the first and second languages.

Interpersonal Dimension: One of three metafunctions that Systemic Functional Linguistics theorizes as being fulfilled by language, the other two being the ideational and the textual metafunctions. Interpersonal metafunction is realized through linguistic resources that enact roles and relationships between writers and readers.

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