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Cross-Sectional Diachronic Corpus Analysis of Stance and Engagement Markers in Three Leading Journals of Applied Linguistics

Abstract Thanks to recent developments in metadiscourse studies, it is now increasingly accepted that metadiscourse practices are closely related to social activities, cognitive styles and epistemological beliefs of academic communities. Despite
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    Vol. 6, No. 2, 2019,1-25 Cross-Sectional Diachronic Corpus Analysis of Stance and Engagement Markers in Three Leading Journals of Applied Linguistics Shirin Rezaei Keramati 1 , Davud Kuhi *2 , Mahnaz Saeidi 3   1 Ph.D. Candidate, English Language Department, Tabriz Branch, Islamic Azad University, Tabriz, Iran, 2   * Assistant Professor, English Language Department, Maragheh Branch, Islamic Azad University, Maragheh, Iran, 3  Assistant Professor, English Language Department, Tabriz Branch, Islamic Azad University, Tabriz, Iran.   Abstract Thanks to recent developments in metadiscourse studies, it is now increasingly accepted that metadiscourse practices are closely related to social activities, cognitive styles and epistemological beliefs of academic communities. Despite widespread interest and research among applied linguists to explore metadiscourse use, very little is known of how metadiscourse resources have evolved over time in response to the historically developing practices of academic communities. Motivated by such an ambition, the current research drew on a corpus of 4.3 million words taken from three leading journals of applied linguistics in order to trace the diachronic evolution of stance and engagement markers across four different sections of research articles (Introduction, Method, Result, Discussion/ Conclusion) from 1996 to 2016. Hyland‘s (2005b) model of metadiscourse was adopted for the analysis of the selected corpus. The data were explored using concordance software AntConc (Anthony, 2011). Moreover, a Chi-Square statistical measure was run to determine statistical significances. The analysis revealed a significant decline in the overall frequency of metadiscourse resources in all sections of RAs. Interestingly, this decrease was entirely due to the overall decline in the use of stance markers  particularly in result and method sections. It might be argued that, diachronic  perspective on metadiscourse contributes to teachers and novice writers‘ awareness of the malleability of academic writing and its sensitivity to context as well as  providing access to current practices for the creation and delivery of teaching materials in EAP courses.   Keywords: Applied Linguistics, Diachronic, Engagement, Metadiscourse, Stance   Received 12 May 2019 Accepted 18 August 2019 Available online 01 September 2019 DOI: 10.30479/jmrels.2019.11293.1409  2 Journal of Modern Research in English Language Studies 6(2), 1-25(2019) 1. Introduction It has been pointed out by many researchers of higher education that the concept of a discipline is not a straightforward one (Becher & Trowler, 2001). In fact, it is possible to view disciplines in a range of different ways. They have been seen as institutional conveniences, networks of communication, domains of values, and modes of enquiry. More recently, Trowler, Saunders and Bamber (2012, p.9) by taking a social practice approach define d disciplines as ―reservoirs of knowledge resources shaping regularized behavioral practices, sets of discourses, ways of thinking,  procedures, emotional responses and motivations‖. This revised view that signaled a view which gave less power to disciplines in conditioning  practices sees academic disciplines as malleable, as open, natural systems which are influenced in contextually-contingent ways by social and material characteristics. Based on the above mentioned assumptions, it seems that during the re cent year‘s disciplinary characteristics have undergone great changes: ―disciplines are becoming highly complex and even more dynamic, they are shifting, boundaries are changing and there are more subdisciplines than ever‖ (Trowler, 2014, p.5). In this lig ht, in an insightful study, Becher and Trowler (2001) looked at disciplines through a structural framework, noting how they are manifested in the basic organizational components of the higher education system and identified six structural changes which have great influence on «academic tribes» and their «territories». These changes are identified as globalization, massification, regulation, market-orientation, efficiency, and fragmentation. In fact, their argument refers to the ways in which current structural changes and epistemic shifts prepare the ground for new games and new rules to play by: Globalization and market-orientation challenge academic borders; mass orientation and fragmentation invite new types of agents and institutions; the traditional academic disciplines dissolve; and an epistemic diversity is now the norm. In another similar study, Trowler, Saunders, and Bamber (2012) have also recognized other powerful structures such as technologies and managerialist ideology and practices as well as the significance of agency influential in shaping disciplinary practices. In Trowler‘s (2012) view, this constellation of factors has resulted in radical shift of academic practices from being very loosely coupled to relatively tightly coupled to outside extra-disciplinary determinants in which the external forces increasingly influence the way academics behave and think. Accordingly, according to Hyland (2004, p. 23) ―over time, the conventions of disciplinary discursive practices  become taken-for-granted along with the ideological assumptions they carry, constantly shifting in response to changes in the dominant socio-cultural  Rezaei Keramati, Kuhi & Saeidi/ Cross-sectional diachronic corpus analysis of  … 3 forces in society‖ (see, for example, Ayers, 2008; Banks, 2008; Biber & Gray, 2011; Gillaerts, 2013; Hyland & Jiang, 2018b; Jiang &Wang 2018; Li & Ge, 2009). Amongst these academic conventions, metadiscourse resources have gone through the same diachronic evolution process to fulfill new social and epistemological demands of discourse communities (see, for instance, Gillaerts, 2014; Gillaerts & Van de Velde, 2010; Hyland & Jiang, 2016a, 2016b, 2018a Kuhi & Dust-Sedigh, 2012; Kuhi & Mousavi, 2015). These studies meaningfully expand our knowledge of metadiscourse variation across disciplines and languages over time. A specific strength of all the studies is that metadiscourse, as one of the significant rhetorical features of research articles, does not operate in vacuum and is sensitive to changes within disciplines and their academic practices. The term metadiscourse was coined by the structural linguist Zelig Harris (1959) for the first time and later has been further developed by writers like Vande Kopple (1985) and Crismore (1989). Building on their work, Hyland (2005b, p.37) argues that ―metadiscourse is the cover term for the self-reflective expressions used to negotiate interactional meanings in a text‖.   Interaction is understood here as the writer‘s intervention to anticipate the reader‘s possible reactions, objections, and processing needs. It has two elements: (i) an interactive dimension which is used to organize propositional information in ways that a projected target audience is likely to find coherent and convincing. (ii) an interactional dimension which focuses on the  participants of the interaction and seek to display the wri ter‘s persona and a tenor consistent with the norms of the disciplinary community (Hyland, 2005a). This study focuses on interactional metadiscourse because these resources, by affording research article writers various means of marking their presence, negotiating knowledge claims, and engaging their readers, lie at the very core of academic communication as socio-rhetorical activity. 2. Literature Review  It is increasingly accepted that the study of the social interactions expressed through academic writing is one of the ways that helps to reveal something of the sanctioned social behaviors, epistemic beliefs, and institutional structures of academic disciplines (Hyland, 2004). Interaction here can be understood as the writer‘s rhetorical awareness of expe ctations and views of a disciplinary audience. Creating a convincing reader environment thus involves deploying disciplinary and genre-specific conventions such that ―the published paper is a multilayered hybrid co- produced  by the authors and  by members of the audience to which it is directed‖ (Knorr  -Cetina, 1981, p. 106).  4 Journal of Modern Research in English Language Studies 6(2), 1-25(2019) Improved awareness of such interactions is, then, the key to understanding how academic discourse works in English. Such an understanding, in turn, allows teachers, novices and expert writers to question  both prevailing discursive practices, offering them greater alternatives in their choice of discourse forms and in their ability to negotiate and establish a  plurality of cultural norms in disciplines (Hyland, 2004). According to Hyland (2005b), this interaction accomplished in academic writing by making choices from the interpersonal system of stance and engagement. In fact, stance and engagement are important elements that bring writers into a text as a player in an interactive game with their audiences. For Hyland (2005b), stance and engagement are two sides of the same coin due to the fact that they contribute to the interpersonal aspect of discourse. However, as it is mentioned academic discourses as a powerful cultural form - influencing and being influenced by the societies of which they are part- do not function in isolation from a wider moral, political and economic context (Hyland, 2004). Thus, over time, taken-for-granted conventions of disciplinary discursive practices constantly shifting in response to changes in the dominant socio-cultural forces in society. This  position probably necessitates developing an understanding (among the  practitioners, learners, writers, etc.) of how communicative behavior should  be adjusted to unpredictable sociocultural variables. In fact, these changes are taking place and both expert and novice members of academic/scientific discourse communities should be able to adapt their rhetorical practices to them. Of course, approaching the issue from a pedagogical perspective, the discursive adjustment of academic/scientific discourses to the sociocultural demands of scientific/academic communication should be approached with some caution. This is due to the fact that the inevitable realization of discursive changes in the process of academic/scientific communication is not that much easily welcomed practice particularly in non-English dominant contexts. In fact, this dynamic and unpredictable discursive practice may result in a feeling of uneasiness among those accustomed to teaching and learning fixed conventions of communication in academic English. Thus, it might be argued that diachronic perspective on metadiscourse contributes to teachers and novice writers‘ ―awareness of the malleability of academic writing and its sensitivity to context as well as providing access to current  practices for the creation and delivery of teaching materials‖ (Hyland & Jiang, 2018, p.20) in EAP courses. Negligence of this awareness can result in their considerable trouble in adopting their rhetorical practices to such changes, particularly in EFL context.  Rezaei Keramati, Kuhi & Saeidi/ Cross-sectional diachronic corpus analysis of  … 5 Despite this importance surprisingly the number of studies over diachronic perspective on these interactional elements seems to be relatively small in the existent literature. For example, on the basis of a quantitative corpus analysis of 72 abstracts, Gillaerts and Van de Velde (2010) found that the use of interactional metadiscourse markers especially boosters and attitude markers has undergone remarkable changes in the course of the past 30 years. Authors argue that this fall may be related to a converging move of (applied) linguistics towards the hard sciences. For them, it is not totally clear whether this move ―is a consequence of changing research practices, with a growing emphasis on empirical studies, or only a change in rhetorical  practices‖ (p. 136).  In another study, Kuhi and Dust- Sedigh‘s (2012) findings showed considerable growth in the frequency of interactional metadiscourse features in the chemistry articles of native and Iranian journals during two decades. In the authors‘ view, the changes in the socio -historical context impose pressure on the structure of academic genres and epistemological norms of science. In the same vein, Gillaerts (2014) found an overall increase of interactive metadiscourse coupled with a decrease in interactional metadiscourse in 60 abstracts from applied linguistics journal published from 1987 to 2007. In the authors‘ view, these findings support the idea that there is an increasin g tendency in applied linguistics towards more statistics and description. Kuhi and Mousavi (2015) focused on the diachronic development of a number of metadiscourse features in the discussion section of research articles in applied linguistics published between 1980 and 2010. From the authors‘ point of view this increase in high prestigious journals may be related to an increasing desire of academic writers to produce more  persuasive texts that reflect the competitive nature of academic discourse. Finally, through the diachronic study of a corpus of 2.2 million words from articles in the top journals in four disciplines, Hyland and Jiang (2016a, 2016b, 2018a) found an overall increase of interactive metadiscourse and a significant decrease in interactional metadiscourse between 1965 and 2015. Authors argued that the shift in academic conventions may indicate changes ―in the nature of disciplines, the influence of external funders and commercial sponsors, and the ever-closer connection between professional re cognition and career advancement in competitive publication marketplace‖ (Hyland & Jiang, 2018, p.29). The studies reported above lend support to the view that there are connections between metadiscourse variation and the changes in social  practices of dis course communities. It seems that ―recent historical changes that have resulted in a gradual movement toward rhetorical convergence ―as discourse communities adjust their use of metadiscourse to changing
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