Native and Non-Native Writers’ Use of Stance Adverbs in English Research Article Abstracts


Stance in scientific writing has been a major focus of attention. However, studies on stance in the research article abstracts have been relatively scarce in Turkey compared to those in other academic prose. Abstracts contain various sections in which information on the purpose, method, results, and conclusions of the study is presented to promote the study and to attract readers’ attention. In this respect, the abstract foregrounds the main findings and serves a promotional purpose (Hyland & Tse, 2005). By comparing abstracts written by Turkish and native writers of English, this paper tries to explore how academic writers from different scientific communities construct author’s stance in research article abstracts. In particular, the present study attempts to analyze lexico-grammatical features in research article abstracts focusing specifically on stance adverbs. Stance adverbs (clearly, probably, apparently) present the attitude or assessment of the speaker/writer with respect to the proposition (Biber, 2006). The corpus consists of 240 abstracts from the disciplines of sociology, psychology, linguistics, physics, chemistry and biology. The results revealed significant differences in the total number of stance adverbs. Native writers of English employed more stance adverbs in their abstracts than Turkish writers. Differences were also found of stance adverbs in soft and hard sciences. Academic writers in the soft sciences used more stance adverbs in their abstracts. Considering variations in scientific discourse across cultures and disciplines, the results of the study may have some pedagogical implications for academic writing courses.

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Çakır, H. (2016) Native and Non-Native Writers’ Use of Stance Adverbs in English Research Article Abstracts. Open Journal of Modern Linguistics, 6, 85-96. doi: 10.4236/ojml.2016.62008.

Received 3 March 2016; accepted 10 April 2016; published 13 April 2016

1. Introduction

Scientific discourse contains unique grammatical structures that construe scientific knowledge and reshape human experience (Halliday, 1994; Halliday & Matthiessen, 1999) . Studies analyzing the distinctive features of scientific discourse (e.g. Hyland, 1998, 2001, 2002; Hyland & Tse, 2004; Swales, 1990, 2004 ) and the possible impact of language or discipline (e.g. Bazerman, 1985, 1988; Breivega et al., 2002; Dahl, 2004; Duszak, 1994; Mauranen, 1993; Moreno, 2004 ) have revealed that scientific language reflects the culture of the discourse community. To be precise, the cultural and social norms affect the way scientists reflect their world and the ways they develop logical reasoning. Each discourse community “employs its institutional discourse, its way of describing and categorizing a problem” (Reeves, 2005: p. 99) . Taking this view, a large number of studies have been carried out on the research article (RA) focusing on its rhetorical and lexico-grammatical features (e.g. Hyland, 1996, 1999; Yakhontova, 2002; Chang & Schleppegrell, 2011 ).

1.1. Stance in Academic Discourse

The concept of stance has been examined by different researchers under different terms and definitions. Stance is defined as “a textual voice”, conveying the attitudinal manner of the writer (Hyland, 2001: p. 176) . Similarly, Conrad and Biber (2000) identifies stance as attitudinal stance which reflects the writer’s attitude towards an issue, event, or person. Thus, authorial stance presents writers’ viewpoints on the components of their work they introduce. Biber (1988) describes stance as “the ways in which an author or speaker overtly expresses attitudes, feelings, judgments, or commitment concerning the message” (p. 204). In other words, linguistic expressions of stance serve to convey how certain the writers feel and also what perspective they take towards a proposition (Biber, 2006) . In this respect, Jaffe (2009) points out that taking a stance is observed in every human communication and even establishing a neutral point of view is evidence of stance. Considering the importance of stance, Hyland (2005) proposes a set of concepts in the process of examining stance-taking. These concepts are evidentiality, hedging and boosters.

Research on academic discourse has also shown that soft science and hard science writers interact differently with their readers (Hyland, 1998, 2001) . Soft sciences comprise disciplines such as psychology, sociology, linguistics and political sciences and are also called social sciences. Hard sciences, on the other hand, include disciplines such as physics, chemistry and biology and they are labeled as physical or natural sciences. Becher (1989) maintains that knowledge production in soft and hard sciences is carried out differently. While writers in hard sciences reveal objectivity, authors in soft sciences demonstrate greater subjectivity. Thus, there is an impersonalized voice in hard sciences and a personalized stance in the soft sciences.

1.2. Stance Adverbs as the Grammatical Expression of Stance

Stance adverbs are widely used in academic discourse, and “speakers use stance adverbs to convey their judgments and attitudes, to claim the factual nature of what they are saying, and to mark exactly how they mean their utterances to be understood” (Biber et al., 1999: pp. 766-767) . Stance adverbs have been studied exclusively or together with other linguistic expressions within the fields of discourse analysis (Hoye, 1997; Stubbs, 1986) hedging (Hyland, 1998) mitigation (Fraser, 1980; Holmes, 1984) evidentiality (Chafe, 1986) evaluation (Hunston & Thompson, 2000) appraisal (Martin & White, 2005) . In particular, studies carried out by Biber and Finegan (1988, 1989) , and Fraser (1996) among others, have specifically focused on stance adverbs. The classifications proposed in all these studies, however, do not overlap and the adverbs are studied under various labels such as “disjuncts”, “adjuncts”, and “markers”.

The classification of adverbs reflecting stance proposed by Biber (2006) were used to analyze the stance adverbs of academic writers in this study. As shown in Figure 1, Biber et al. (1999) and Biber (2006) distinguish four main types of stance adverbs namely: epistemic adverbs (certainty adverbs, likelihood adverbs), attitude adverbs and style adverbs. Epistemic adverbs present the speaker’s comments about the status of information in a proposition and indicate the certainty or doubt. In this group, certainty adverbs denote that the writer commits him/herself to the truth of the proposition expressed in the utterance. Thus, by using acertainty adverb, the writer asserts the truth of the proposition. In contrast, likelihood adverbs are used when the writer makes judgment on the truth value of the proposition and usually indicate a doubt. Attitude adverbs report personal attitudes or feelings. Style adverbs, on the other hand, indicate comments on the communication itself (Biber et al., 1999: pp. 972-975) . Style adverbs are employed to comment on the manner of presenting information. They are usually used to strengthen the truth-value of a proposition or claim (Hinkel, 2003) .

Even though I have employedthe classification of stance adverbs of Biber et al. (1999) for exploring the linguistic realization of stance, I have departed from it in some respect. First, I look at single word adverbs alone. Secondly, underepistemic adverbs I include also domain adverbs such as biologically, chemically, theoretically. Domain adverbs are also among lexico-grammatical features conveying stance and projecting evaluations. These adverbs reflect comments conveying commitment to the propositional content. By specifying a field within a

Figure 1. Classification of Stance adverbs (Biber et al., 1999; Biber, 2006) .

proposition, the writer signals that the degree of probability of the proposition is the highest (Tseronis, 2009: p. 59) .

・ Are there any similarities/differences in the use of stance adverbs in the soft and hard sciences?

2. Methodology

2.1. Construction of Subcorpora

Table 1. Descriptive information on the subcorpora.

Table 2. Number of words in the corpus.

2.2. Data Analysis

3. Results

3.1. Total Number of Adverbs

3.2. Distribution of Adverbs in Hard and Soft Sciences

Figure 2. Raw numbers of adverbs used by native and non-native writers.

Figure 3. Distribution of stance adverbs across hard and soft sciences.

0.221 > 0.05), domain adverbs (p = 0.952 > 0.05), attitude adverbs (p = 0.099 > 0.05), and style adverbs (p = 0.349 > 0.05) in soft and hard sciences, but the difference in the total number of stance adverbs between soft sciences and hard sciences was statistically significant (p = 0.003 < 0.05).

3.3. Distribution of Adverbs across Six Disciplines

Frequency of stance adverbs in each discipline was small, thus formal statistical analysis could not be applied separately on each discipline. However, raw numbers of the frequency of adverbs in each discipline are given in Figure 4 to provide a general picture of how frequently stance adverbs were employed across different disciplines. Disciplinary differences were also found in terms of the distribution of stance adverbs. Disciplines representing the social sciences showed a higher frequency of adverbs. Figure 4 summarizes the results of the frequency distribution of stance adverbs across disciplines.

Figure 4. Use of stance adverbs across six disciplines.

4. Discussion

In response to the second research question, i.e., whether there were differences in the use of stance adverbs between soft and hard sciences, the results demonstrated that the frequency of stance adverbs was higher in the soft sciences than in hard sciences. This phenomenon seems to indicate that hard sciences and soft sciences use different strategies in presenting scientific meaning. While the hard sciences tends to build knowledge on the basis of experimental observation and evidence, soft sciences seeks for alternative ways to construct scientific knowledge. Thus, in social sciences the academic writer has to draw on different linguistic devices for reasoning and validating his/her point of view. In this respect, disciplines representing the social sciences displayed a higher frequency of stance adverbs. From these results, it can be concluded that there might be different disciplinary norms for using lexico-grammatical features like stance adverbs across disciplines. These findings are in line with previous research (Samraj, 2002; Stotesbury, 2003; Yakhontova, 2006; Çakır, 2011) comparing disciplines.

Although these limitations show that this research is far from finished, it can help academic writers understand how they construct stance in their writing. Learning the features of academic discourse can help writers understand how language works in any academic setting. This type of awareness would give academic writers a repertoire of voices that they would be able to choose from depending on the type of writing they needed to create and could help them integrate better into the academic community.

5. Conclusion

The overall results obtained in this study suggest that there are obvious differences between the use of stance adverbs by native writers and non-native Turkish writers.

Although much remains to be done to better understand the linguistic resources that convey stance, this study tried to shed some lights into how non-native and native writers use stance adverbs to construe their stance and comment on their research. Further studies are needed to verify the role of grammatical expressions on authorial stance in academic discourse.

*This article is a revised version of a paper presented at the Akdeniz Language Studies Conference.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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