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Voice alternation and authorial presence : variation across disciplinary areas in academic english


Seoane, Elena; Hundt, Marianne (2018). Voice alternation and authorial presence : variation across disciplinary areas in academic english. Journal of English Linguistics, 46(1):3-22.

Abstract

This paper examines voice alternation, that is, variation between the active and passive voice in academic Englishes. The focus is on differences regarding degrees of author involvement. A previous study on the use of be-passives in fifteen varieties of academic English (Hundt, Schneider & Seoane 2016) found voice alternation to be very similar in both contact and native (ENL) varieties of English, with only American English showing a pronounced tendency towards a more frequent use of actives. A more fine-grained analysis, however, revealed highly significant interdisciplinary variation: whereas in the hard sciences the default option to express a transitive event is the passive voice, in the soft sciences, preference is often given to the active. In this paper we do not compare varieties of English but concentrate on ENL data from the entire academic sections of ICE corpora (International Corpus of English) as a whole in order to uncover the functional role of actives and passives across disciplinary areas with regard to authorial presence. The results indicate that the differences attested do not correlate with differences in authorial involvement (We discovered this versus This was discovered) since texts remain equally impersonal. Other factors, such as the increasing informalization observed in various genres, will have to be contemplated in any comprehensive study of the rhetoric of science.

Abstract

This paper examines voice alternation, that is, variation between the active and passive voice in academic Englishes. The focus is on differences regarding degrees of author involvement. A previous study on the use of be-passives in fifteen varieties of academic English (Hundt, Schneider & Seoane 2016) found voice alternation to be very similar in both contact and native (ENL) varieties of English, with only American English showing a pronounced tendency towards a more frequent use of actives. A more fine-grained analysis, however, revealed highly significant interdisciplinary variation: whereas in the hard sciences the default option to express a transitive event is the passive voice, in the soft sciences, preference is often given to the active. In this paper we do not compare varieties of English but concentrate on ENL data from the entire academic sections of ICE corpora (International Corpus of English) as a whole in order to uncover the functional role of actives and passives across disciplinary areas with regard to authorial presence. The results indicate that the differences attested do not correlate with differences in authorial involvement (We discovered this versus This was discovered) since texts remain equally impersonal. Other factors, such as the increasing informalization observed in various genres, will have to be contemplated in any comprehensive study of the rhetoric of science.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > English Department
06 Faculty of Arts > Center for Linguistics
08 University Research Priority Programs > Language and Space
Dewey Decimal Classification:820 English & Old English literatures
Language:English
Date:2018
Deposited On:18 Dec 2017 15:56
Last Modified:30 Mar 2018 06:00
Publisher:Sage Publications Ltd.
ISSN:0075-4242
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/0075424217740938

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