Evolution in Genre

Emergence, Variation, Multimodality

by Paola Evangelisti Allori (Volume editor) John Bateman (Volume editor) Vijay K. Bhatia (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 380 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 192


The notion of ‘genre’ has established itself as a key concept in many disciplines and fields as a means of describing social action and/or recurring patterns of form. Recent social and technological changes are driving the emergence of new genres, the evolution of traditional ones as well as variation within them. In this volume a range of approaches addressing the evolution of genre are presented. Many draw on corpus analysis of the lexicogrammatical features employed in the communicative artefacts addressed; several extend traditional corpus analysis to include non-linguistic or extra-linguistic features involved in multimodal communication. Connections with social theories are discussed, as is the notion of families or groups of genres co-existing within broader constellations. Genres are examined in detail for their linguistic and non-linguistic realisations and forms of expression across related genres and within the ‘same’ genre when subjected to differing social or medial constraints or possibilities. In all cases, we see how genre continues to function as an effective tool for following communication as it, its contexts of use, and its social functions evolve.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Evolution in Genre: Emergence, Variation, Multimodality: John A. Bateman, Paola Evangelisti Allori, Vijay K. Bhatia
  • 1. Introduction
  • References
  • Acknowledgements
  • I. Emerging Genres
  • The Evolution of Business Discourse and the Emergence of the Corporate Social Responsibility Paradigm: An Investigation of CSR Reports: Paola Catenaccio
  • 1. Aim and scope
  • 2. Theoretical background
  • 2.1. A constructivist approach to language and discourse
  • 2.2. Discourse- and genre-structuring through lexical signaling: a keyword study
  • 3. Corpus and method
  • 4. Findings and discussion
  • 4.1. Business and its cotext: the integration metaphor
  • 4.2. Self-representation, belief-based commitment, and the neutralisation of contested interpretations
  • 4.3. Keywords and priming effects
  • 5. Conclusions
  • References
  • Variation in Apologetic Strategies in Annual Company Reports: Rhetorical Functions of Lexical-Syntactical Patterns: Cinzia Giglioni
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Study background
  • 2.1. Corpus description
  • 2.2. Assessment of financial data
  • 2.3 Research rationale and preliminary findings
  • 2.4. Refining the method
  • 3. Textual realizations of apologetic strategies: lexical and syntactical traits
  • 3.1. Strategy-specific linguistic traits
  • 3.1.1. Transcendence
  • 3.1.2. Bolstering
  • 3.1.3. Differentiation
  • 3.1.4. Indirect denial
  • 4. Conclusions
  • References
  • Investigating Variation in Medical Poster Abstracts: Stefania M. Maci
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Background: social change and medical discourse
  • 3. The case of Medical Poster Abstracts: corpus collection
  • 4. The case of Medical Poster Abstracts: Corpus Linguistic Analysis
  • 4. Conclusion
  • References
  • Appendix
  • 1. List of abstracts
  • 2. Additional medical corpus formed with all the documents downloaded from the following medical journals (access on Nov 18th 2010)
  • II. Genre Variability
  • Managing Interdiscursive Space in Professional Communication: Vijay K. Bhatia
  • 1. Interdiscursive space in genre theory
  • 2. Construction of discursive space in corporate disclosure practices
  • 3. Colonisation of discursive space in international commercial arbitration
  • 4. Strategic deployment of interdiscursive space in classified advertising
  • 5. Concluding remarks
  • 6. References
  • Trial Proceeding Transcripts as Genre: Decontextualization and Recontextualization: Michela Giordano
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Theoretical framework
  • 3. Data
  • 4. Transcripts as genre
  • 5. The decontextualization of written transcripts
  • 6. Analysis and discussion
  • 6.1. Reporter’s comments in Lizzie Borden’s trial
  • 6.2. Reporter’s comments in John Anderson’s trial
  • 6.3. Reporter’s comments in O.J. Simpson’s trial
  • 7. Conclusions
  • Primary sources
  • References
  • Anything for a Laugh: Creating and Maintaining Humour from Script to Subtitling in the British TV Situation Comedy: Gillian Mansfield
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Aims
  • 3. Methodology and criteria for selection
  • 4. Analysis
  • 4.1. Written representations
  • 3.2. From written script to performance
  • 3.3. Accents
  • 4.4. Foreign accents
  • 4.5. The spontaneous word
  • 4.6. Manoeuvring phonology
  • 4.7.1. Easily confused words
  • 4.7.2. Near homophones
  • 4.7.3. Homophones
  • 4.7.4. Speech defects
  • 4. Conclusions
  • References
  • Alignment Strategies and Genre Variation in Students’ Graph Commentaries: Carmen Sancho-Guinda
  • 1. Preliminaries: The visual data commentary as borderline genre
  • 2. Communal and instructional causes of variation
  • 3. The study: context and methodology
  • 4. Findings: High-engagement discourse aggregates
  • 4.1. AW Expectations: Informative density
  • 4.2.CLT routines: The primacy of fluency
  • 5. A final reflection
  • References
  • From Business Letters to E-mails: Balancing Tradition and Change: Franca Poppi
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Electronic Propinquity
  • 3. Materials, Method and Objectives
  • 4. Distinguishing between a Business Letter and an E-mail
  • 4.1. Overall structural features
  • 4.1.1. Distinctive format
  • 4.1.2. Structural features
  • 4.1.3. Style of language (distinctively polite phraseology)
  • 4.2. The typified events in response to which business letters and e-mails are produced
  • 5. Discussion of the Results
  • 6. Conclusions
  • References
  • Genre Variation in Mediation Practice: Traditional vs Online Processes: Maurizio Gotti, Larissa D’Angelo
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. The mediation process genre
  • 2.1. Move 1: The opening move
  • 2.2. Move 2: Presenting the case
  • 2.3. Move 3: Working towards a solution
  • 2.3.1. Asking for solutions
  • 2.3.2. Coping with conflicts
  • 2.3.3. Interacting in private sessions
  • 2.3.4. Dealing with emotional outbursts
  • 2.3.5. Facilitating consensus
  • 2.4. Move 4: The ending move
  • 3. Technological conditioning
  • 4. Conclusion
  • References
  • Appendix
  • III. Multimodality in Genres
  • Genre in the Age of Multimodality: Some Conceptual Refinements for Practical Analysis: John A. Bateman
  • 1. Introduction: genre in a multimodal world
  • 2. Genre and multimodality
  • 2.1. The purpose of genre attributions
  • 2.2. Genre definitions
  • 2.3. Genre forms: the role of the ‘beholder’
  • 2.4. Genre forms: the role of the artefact
  • 3. Rhetorical strategies and semiotic modes
  • 4. The relation between medium and semiotic modes
  • 5. Multimodal genres and dissolving the ‘digital’/ ‘non-digital’ divide
  • 6. Conclusions: characterising the genres of multimodal artefacts
  • References
  • Transgeneric Multimodal Designs across Business and Academic Communication: the Case of Multimedia Kits: Carmen Daniela Maier
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. The multimedia kits
  • 3. Theoretical framework and methodological tools
  • 4. Preliminary findings
  • 4.1. Design of identities
  • 4.2. Design of affinity groups
  • 4.3. Design of networks
  • 5. Conclusions
  • References
  • Collaborative Writing and Linking: When Technology Interacts with Genres in Meaning Construction: Sandra Petroni
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Theoretical framework
  • 3. Digital Genres and their Hyper-nature
  • 4. Collaborative Writing and New Web Genres: The Wiki Case
  • 5. Conclusion
  • References
  • Emerging Conventions in the Verbal Component of the ‘About’ Page of British University Websites: Luisa Caiazzo
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. The notion of genre and the Web context
  • 3. Data and methods
  • 4. The About page: analysing the verbal component
  • 4.1. The linguistic representation of the institution: we vs university
  • 4.2. Heading and text type
  • 4.3. Text length and links
  • 4.4. Generic structure
  • 5. The ‘About’ page: emerging conventions
  • 6. Conclusions
  • References
  • Genre Variation in Electoral Campaigns: Adaptation to the Audience in UK Posters and TV Debates: Chiara Degano
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Background
  • 3. Methodological framework
  • 4. Analysis
  • 4.1. Posters
  • 4.2. TV Debates
  • 4.2.1. Case 1: Immigration
  • 4.2.2. Case 2: UK and EU
  • 5. Conclusion
  • References
  • Notes on Contributors


Evolution in Genre: Emergence, Variation, Multimodality


The notion of ‘genre’ has long established itself as a key concept in many disciplines and fields. And, as a key concept, it provides various methods of access to the phenomena it is used to describe. Current definitions and applications of genre show a collection of family resemblances that indicate well the kind of work that genre is called upon to perform. First, there is the strong relation to social action and kinds of social organisation that have been strongly promoted for genre (e.g., Miller 1984; Bhatia 1993). Second, there is the use of genre to refer to reoccurring patterns of form in any artefacts or behaviours being explored: members of any particular genre are commonly taken to exhibit certain regularities in terms of the kinds of communicative work that is done, the forms of expression that work takes on, and the particular sequences of communicative acts that required to realise the genre (Swales 1990; Bhatia 1993; Martin / Rose 2008; Lemke 2005). The importance of relating sequences of communicative actions to particular academic, professional and social contexts with the expectation that specific communicative goals and purposes will be achieved within these contexts is now uncontroversial. Using genre to organise research and empirical study so that the interplay between specific communicative situations and expressive forms can guide investigation has successfully demonstrated its utility time and again. Academic, professional and social practices can be brought into sharper relief, educational materials can be tailored more effectively to empower language users in a broader range of such contexts, and similarities ← 9 | 10 → and differences between communicative practices can be mapped out beneficially and related to social change.

Genre is thus essentially historically and socially situated. And this in turn means that the aspect of change must be considered as an important component of any genre-based research. As social practices develop and change, communicative demands follow suit and the genres of communicative behaviour appropriate for meeting those demands grow (or shrink) similarly. It is then of considerable importance to consider, both theoretically and practically in the course of particular descriptions, how the notion of genre itself meets the challenges that accounting adequately for change and development raise. Particularly nowadays, we are witnessing an explosion of communicative practices going far beyond previously established language uses. Moreover, communication today draws on an unprecedented range of modalities, combining written language, pictures, spoken language, moving images, diagrams with considerable flexibility; and, at the same time, the media of distribution of communicative artefacts and behaviours is expanding, with online media coming to play a role in all areas of communication and interpersonal interaction.

It is not necessarily the case that prior approaches to genre are all equally prepared for the task of incorporating and following change – indeed, one recurrent criticism of genre approaches is the presupposition that they consider generic structuring and language use as ‘static’ and overly conventionalised. It then becomes an increasingly urgent task to consider the question of how notions of genre cope when the communicative landscape is itself undergoing such fundamental changes. Moreover, the emergence of new media and new communicative requirements does not proceed in a vacuum. Typically new communicative situations build on and re-use established patterns of communication – this means that previously established genres are re-purposed, re-designed and re-deployed. To study and understand such developmental trajectories, therefore, it is again vital to see them in terms of genre. Only then can novelty be placed in appropriate contexts so that we can see how novelty functions by drawing on existing genre repertoires of their communities of users. But we also need to consider just how genres morph and develop in the process of these various kinds of interdiscursive appropriation (Bhatia 2010). ← 10 | 11 →

The contributions collected in this volume are all motivated as responses to these twin challenges of new communicative situations and the development and continuation of effective communication by re-deploying existing genres, often creating mixed and embedded genres (Bhatia 2004). We see in each case attention being paid to specific communicative tasks, in various communicative media, and characterisations of these situations in terms of the genres that are being mobilised. In some cases, we find that new genres need to be proposed; in other cases, we see that existing genres are finding new homes or opportunities for use; and in other cases still, we see that definitions of genre itself have to be re-pointed and re-focused to continue to provide effective access to, and organisation of, communicative practices. In short, the volume returns to the basic question of just what is genre? What can the theoretical construct of genre be used for? We then also need to address questions of method in order to deal with new situations of use: how can we find out about genre? And, in response to such new situations: how are genres changing and why?

This volume’s responses to these questions are organised into three broad sections: the first concerned with emergent genres, the second with genre variability and the third with genre and multimodality. There are also many points of cross-connection across the sections, both methodologically and in terms of the kinds of material examined and the media in which communication takes place. We characterise briefly each major section in turn, setting out the particular questions and kinds of communication targeted in each contribution.

In the first section, dealing with emergent genres and interaction between genres, several contributions focus specifically on communicative and genre responses to new societal pressures, demands and contexts. New genres can be seen to be emerging from these configurations and so the description and documentation of both the corresponding social practices and their genres must be undertaken. The volume thus opens with a contribution by VIJAY K. BHATIA which specifically opens up the discussion by considering three example contexts of use in which distinct cultural activities, and their accompanying communicative practices, are explicitly being made to interact, engaging with and transforming one another. In each area of corporate disclosure, international commercial arbitration, and classified ← 11 | 12 → advertising, Bhatia shows how a particular interdiscursive space is brought into being within which the interacting professionals involved redraw genre boundaries and relations, shaping communicative practices to their needs. Within such spaces, established professional practices can enlist and colonise other such practices, as when, for example, commercial arbitration (and its communicative genres) becomes almost indistinguishable from litigation, or product or service reviews come to embed advertisements or other ‘advertorials’. To characterise these changes and developments, Bhatia takes his previous (2010) proposals for an objective critical genre analysis further and sets out to discuss how the concepts of intertextuality and interdiscursivity should be systematically distinguished from one another, thus providing stronger theoretical tools for tracking change and evolution in genres and their relationships to professional practice. The remaining contributions of this section address a range of new cultural, professional and communicative demands. The contribution of PAOLA CATENACCIO addresses, for example, the particular case of Company Social Responsibility Reports, an emergent genre by which companies document how well they have met and furthered environmental issues, while the contribution of CINZIA GIGLIONI addresses how the established genre of annual company reports has come under pressure in times of financial difficulties to respond to stakeholders more effectively, making the report genre overlap in significant ways with that of apologies. A further genre movement is then discussed by STEFANIA M. MACI in the very different context of submitted abstracts for conference posters in the medical domain; here again we find aspects of existing genres, that of reports, being made to do service in a new context, leading to further emergent genre organisations. To address this shift in function, Maci adopts a combination of genre theory and critical discourse analysis. All of the contributions in this section can therefore be seen as addressing different facets of emergence, both of situations and of corresponding genres, and their relationship to changes in society and professional practice.

In the second section, addressing genre variability, the contributions concern the further range of changes being brought about by the adoption of differing and diverse media of distribution for genres. This leads to variation on generic organisational patterns as the af ← 12 | 13 → fordances and capabilities of diverse media impact on the kind of communicative work that can be done. Here the volume discusses a broad variety of media-induced or media-accompanying genre variations. This itself raises quite fundamental issues for the description and identification of genre in the face of variation. The contributions of this section can all therefore be seen to relate to the challenges of ‘media translation’, where communicative tasks are taken on employing new media or similar communicative tasks have to be achieved across different media. MICHELA GIORDANO, for example, considers what is changed in legal trial proceedings in the process of moving from the actually performed legal situation to the official, and legally binding, written reports of that situation. This is a particularly marked case of distributions of work across spoken and written media as well as showing several distinctive features of translation in general, such as explicitation when non-verbally communicated information has to be fixed in the written record. Giordano considers three trials widely distributed in time, treating each in terms of the properties and features they exhibit as members of their genre. GILLIAN MANSFIELD then takes on a further kind of translation, that of communicating humour in TV sitcoms via subtitles for the hard of hearing. Here again, there is a balance to be achieved between the capabilities of the medium employed and the generic properties of the communication unfolding. In contrast, CARMEN SANCHO GUINDA addresses the quite different task of describing visual graphs and diagrams in verbal form: this activity is now occurring as a standard component in many areas of education as preparation for professional work where both verbal and visual media are employed for meaning-making. Guinda’s results show clearly that many difficulties exhibited by learners can be characterised as an adoption of inappropriate genres for their textual production: the students treat the task as information-transfer plus components for generating reader interest, rather than applying the specific genre features expected by the communities into which they are being socialised. Paying attention to genre explicitly during the teaching process and the genres expected by particular communities can therefore here, as in many other cases, directly improve performance. The last two contributions in this section on variability then move on to the new media of the web and online interaction. FRANCA POPPI addresses ← 13 | 14 → the vexed issue of whether email should be considered a genre or not by examining business communication. Her corpus of professionally produced business communication shows clearly that email has moved away from a style, often informal and related to spoken genres, to become a medium in which a variety of genres, including formal, professional business communication can be distributed. And MAURIZIO GOTTI and LARISSA D’ANGELO consider the changes and adaptations that become necessary when dispute mediation dialogues are moved from face-to-face situations to the electronic chat-like, online medium of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR). Here the medium itself enforces changes to the genre in order to preserve its communicative effectiveness, bringing about a particularly clear case of genre variation under medial pressures.

The third and final area addressed in the volume is then devoted to the further logical stage of new medial possibilities, in which new genres, new hybrids and blends arise that are driven both by new communicative and social requirements and the possibilities offered by new media. Here issues of multimodality and interactivity come to the fore, raising again new challenges for the notion of genre. Thus the first contribution in this section, that of JOHN BATEMAN, attempts to characterise and distinguish notions of genre and of medium more finely so that empirical analysis can focus precisely on just what features may be attributable to genre considerations and which arise more from properties of the medium employed. The need to distinguish between genre and medium is particularly strong in multimodal contexts because of the great diversity of communicative techniques commonly co-deployed in any multimodal communicative artefact. Focusing attention is then crucial for effective methodologies and for finding generalisations and tracking patterns of change. CARMEN D. MAIER first takes up multimodality and genre in a different context: that of multimedia kits presented to conference attendees. By means of a variety of techniques, including interviews, Maier explores how genres presented together can be re-purposed and, in doing so, how they mutually re-define one another in a manner reminiscent of the combinations and linkages found in hypertext. SANDRA PETRONI then addresses more directly the new possibilities raised by online, cooperatively constructed wikis, where particular traversals through the linking possibil ← 14 | 15 → ities offered by wiki hypertexts can themselves be investigated as constituting new forms of genre. LUISA CAIAZZO explores a further emergent web-based genre, the ‘About us’ page of university websites. A corpus-based analysis of the multimodal features deployed within a selection of such pages shows again how new communicative work is being performed by combining established generic forms with new requirements: a clear relationship of similarity is established here, for example, between these webpages and advertisements. Finally, CHIARA DEGANO offers a contrastive analysis of the communicative work possible with electoral posters and that possible (and required) in the TV electoral debates in Britain. The electoral debate, familiar from the United States, is a new addition to British political media forms and Degano succeeds in bringing out by detailed analysis how the move from monologic (but multimodal) information presentation in posters to the dialogic (and performed) information presentation on TV also shifts the range of genres that may be mobilised in the service of presenting the positions of political parties.

The methods employed in the contributions in all three areas thus span a diverse range of possibilities. Many draw on detailed corpus analysis of the lexico-grammatical features employed in the communicative artefacts addressed; several extend traditional corpus analysis to include non-linguistic or extra-linguistic features involved in multimodal communication in different media. However all the contributions draw on genre as a way of framing their general methodological access to the questions under consideration. Connections with social theories are discussed, as well as the important notion of families or groups of genres co-existing within broader constellations, such as described in terms of genre colonies by Bhatia. Genres are used to define finer-grained units of analysis, such as discourse moves, which can then be examined in detail for their linguistic and non-linguistic realisations and forms of expression across related genres and within the ‘same’ genre when subjected to differing social or medial constraints or possibilities. In all cases, we see how genre continues to function as an effective tool for following communication as its contexts of use and social functions evolve. ← 15 | 16 →


Bateman, John A. 2008. Multimodality and Genre: a Foundation for the Systematic Analysis of Multimodal Documents. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bhatia, Vijay K. 1993. Analysing Genre: Language Use in Professional Settings. Harlow, UK: Longman.

Bhatia, Vijay K. 2004. Worlds of Written Discourse: A Genre-Based View. London: Continuum.

Bhatia, Vijay K. 2010. Interdiscursivity in Professional Communication. Discourse and Communication. 21/1, 32–50.

Lemke, Jay L. 2005. Multimedia Genre and Traversals. Folia Linguistica. XXXIX(1–2), 45–56.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (October)
social action corpus analysis communication
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 380 pp.

Biographical notes

Paola Evangelisti Allori (Volume editor) John Bateman (Volume editor) Vijay K. Bhatia (Volume editor)

Paola Evangelisti Allori is Senior Professor of English at the University of Rome4 ‘Foro Italico’. Her research interests include the language/culture interaction in academic and professional discourses as well as comparative analyses of domain specific-discourses and genres in various disciplinary areas and fields of action, both cross-linguistically and cross-disciplinarily. John Bateman is Professor of Applied Linguistics in the English and Linguistics Departments of the University of Bremen, Germany. His research spans functional linguistic approaches to multilingual and multimodal document design, the semiotics of film, discourse structure, genre, and the relation between language and other semiotic systems. Vijay K. Bhatia retired as Professor of English from the City University of Hong Kong. He is the CEO and Director of ESP Communication Services and also the President of the Asia-Pacific Association of LSP and Professional Communication. His research spans genre analysis of academic and professional discourses, ESP and Professional Communication.


Title: Evolution in Genre