Academic Englishes: A standardized knowledge?
It is a fact universally acknowledged that English has emerged in recent decades as the premier vehicle for the communication of scholarship, research and advanced postgraduate training. The causes of this rise have, however, been the subject of considerable controversy, with a particularly strenuous debate between Phillipson (e.g. 1999) and Crystal (2000), which is fully reprised and extended in Seidlhofer (2003). Whatever the merits of the various arguments, whether, for example, Crystal’s 1997 account is ‘triumphalist’ or not, there can be no doubt that English has become the principal medium for the transmission and exchange of academic knowledge, just as there can be no doubt that the global number of academic communications, both in English and in other languages, has greatly increased in recent decades. And this applies not simply to the number of research articles and scholarly books published each year, but also to the number of international and more local academic conferences held annually, as well as to other kinds of cross-national academic and research exchange, such as multinational research projects and the growing numbers of students spending study periods outside their home countries (Fortanet-Gómez and Räisänen 2008). In other words, the increasing use of academic English is not conﬁned to the printed word, but equally applies to the spoken utterance. Aspects of the similarities and differences between written and spoken academic and
research speech – in all their uses and varieties – will surface at various points in this chapter. At the outset, however, it is pertinent to consider, and perhaps reconsider, the relationship between these two primary modes. For a number of reasons, the written mode was long privileged by analysts and researchers of academic discourse, as it was by instructors in the applied ﬁeld of English for Academic Purposes. For one thing, it is written work that is primarily assessed and evaluated, both for students as they journey towards their higher degrees, and for academics as they apply for better jobs or come up for evaluation and potential contract renewal, tenure or promotion. Second, written exemplars have been much easier to get hold of and to get a handle on; they also more readily lend themselves to the traditional methods of linguistic analysis. Third, the
recent rise of interest in courses, workshops and manuals designed to develop academic language skills has also been largely focused on the written side. For instance, there is now a considerable body of material designed to help students, both with English as a ﬁrst language or as an additional language (EAL), in the writing of Master’s and PhD theses (e.g. Swales and Feak 2000), but, at present, there is relatively little available to help them with the oral presentation and defence of their work. So, not only has the written side of things been privileged, but, in addition, it has tended to become detached from the various speech events and episodes in which the development of academic text is typically immersed. Over the last decade, however, there has been something of a change in both per-
ception and outcome with regard to the speech-writing ‘divide’. One motivating force is increasing interest on the part of applied linguists and others in ethnographic studies of the academy. An important and inﬂuential work in this regard is Prior’s Writing/ Disciplinarity (Prior 1998). His case studies offer insights into the lived experience of post-graduate seminars in which talk emerges as a crucial element in textualizing processes and also as a negotiated ground that undermines the traditional institutional power imbalance between professors and their post-graduate students. Later work along these lines includes Tardy (2005) and Seloni (2008). Another has been the creation of corpora of spoken academic and research English (e.g. T2K-SWAL), and the more widely available Michigan Corpus in Academic Spoken English (MICASE), and the many publications that have been based on them, such as Biber et al. (2002) and Pérez-Llantada and Ferguson (2006). A third development, very much centred on Europe, has been interest by discourse analysts in the conference presentation, over and beyond the traditional research focus on the written research article. A key work here is the outstanding collection edited by Ventola et al. (2002). If the balance of attention between spoken and written genres is now being readjusted,
there are other affordances that work for an even greater rapprochement. One requires a recognition of the Bakhtinian notion of ‘inner’ or ‘private’ speech. Every time we are faced with a non-trivial speaking or writing task, we run through options in our minds as we prepare to either address an audience (as when preparing to ask a question) or place our ﬁngers on the keyboard (as when composing a conference abstract). We mentally rehearse, as we try to imagine the effects of possible spoken or written offerings. In effect, there are cognitive and rhetorical correspondences here. Another type of affordance derives from the ongoing development of hybrid communicative styles in electronic genres such as emails and blogs, and in those parts of websites that deal with such part-genres as FAQs (Bloch 2008). A third is essentially sociological, or at least socio-academic. A major change in the perception of academia originated in science studies in the 1970s, when sociologists and anthropologists turned their attention to scientiﬁc work. Instead of asking scientists what they did and taking their word for it, they observed the activities that scientists actually engaged in. This constituted a major break with the traditional provinces of the philosophy or the history of science. The reorientation in seeing academia coincided with changes in academic practices: while scientists had worked in teams for centuries, scholars in the ‘soft’ sciences had remained solitary individuals, each on their own projects. Twenty years ago, the concept of the individual scholar toiling away in her solipsistic ivory tower, or of the lonely PhD student immured in her library carrel, has been replaced by a growing speech-writing interconnectedness of those individual members of the academic world, mainly through formal sub-groupings of researchers and research students, as well as
via various kinds of informal collectives for study, information or mutual support, not excluding various specialized ‘lists’ on the web. In consequence of all this, the older models of speaking-writing interaction that tended to consider the oral component as sub-ordinate, preparatory or merely evaluative in a post hoc kind of way (as in a thesis defence or a promotion committee) are being replaced. As Rubin and Kang interestingly propose:
A more apt model might be a double helix with a writing strand and a speaking strand intertwined. At any particular page one strand may be the focal outcome, drawing upon the other. But as a whole, the two strands are reciprocally supportive and leading in the same direction.