One of the basic functions to which language is put is to comment on discourse or on language itself. Reflexivity in language occurs in everyday discourse as well as in specialised discourse, such as academic papers or lectures. It is often referred to as metadiscourse, or „discourse about discourse‟, as in In this paper, I explore… or just to give you kind of a map of where we are going… Such expressions are very common in academic genres, where the writer/speaker is expected to guide the audience through the discourse, for example by making its structure explicit. While research into metadiscourse has focused on academic writing, academic speech has remained largely unexplored. Furthermore, comparisons of spoken and written metadiscourse are rare, so the similarities and differences between spoken and written types of metadiscourse are unknown.
The present qualitative and corpus-based study compares the use of personal metadiscourse in 30 spoken university lectures to that of 130 highly proficient essays by graduate students. The purpose is to present an empirically based taxonomy of the discourse functions of spoken and written metadiscourse with respect to academic English. Despite claims in previous research that separate treatment is needed, a lumping approach is taken rather than a splitting one. The goal is to create one taxonomy for both modes, thereby highlighting both similarities and differences in the distribution of discourse functions across speech and writing.
The proposed taxonomy consists of 23 discourse functions, divided into four main categories:
Metalinguistic comments, Discourse organisation, Speech act labels and References to the audience. The findings reveal that most of the discourse functions in the taxonomy occurred in both speech and writing, although spoken metadiscourse performed a greater range of discourse actions than written metadiscourse. Differences in the conditions of speech and writing did indeed cause variation in the use of metadiscourse: The discourse functions REPAIRING, MARKING ASIDES and CONTEXTUALISING occurred only in the spoken data because of the lack of time for planning and revision in real-time discourse, while MANAGING COMPREHENSION/CHANNEL and MANAGING AUDIENCE DISCIPLINE occurred only in the spoken data because of the direct presence of an audience. Factors related to genre were also found to cause variation in the use of metadiscourse: ARGUING was considerably more common in the written data, since academic writers typically need to put a great deal of work into argumentation, while lecturers generally present information not based on their own research. MANAGING THE MESSAGE, on the other hand, was common in the spoken data, which can be attributed to lecturers adopting a more authoritative role than student writers.
2010. Vol. 9, no 2