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Academic Vocabulary in Context


David Hirsh

Academic texts present subject-specific ideas within a subject-independent framework. This book accounts for the presence of academic words in academic writing by exploring recurring patterns of function in texts representing different subject areas. The book presents a framework which describes academic word use at the ideational, textual and interpersonal levels. Functional categories are presented and illustrated which explain the role of academic words alongside general purpose and technical terms. The author examines biomedical research articles, and journal articles from arts, commerce and law. A comparable analysis focuses on university textbook chapters. Case studies investigate patterns of functionality within the main sections of research articles, compare word use in academic and non-academic texts reporting on the same research, and explore the carrier word function of academic vocabulary. The study concludes by looking at historical and contemporary processes which have shaped the presence of academic vocabulary in the English lexicon.


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2. Academic vocabulary 15


2. Academic vocabulary Not all languages have a distinct, substantial and specialised academic vocabulary. In a case study, the 2,000 most commonly used words in French (the general service words) provided 84% coverage of popular tests and 81% coverage of medical texts. The case in English was different, where the 2,000 most commonly used words covered 81% of popular texts but only 70% of medical texts (Cobb/Horst 2004). The lower coverage of general service words in English medical texts is due to the significant presence of academic words in the language. Researchers have focused on ways to help learners of academic English cope with the vocabulary demands of reading in English, leading to the development of lists of academic words. 2.1. Identifying a distinct vocabulary The presence of an academic vocabulary is noted by Dresher (1934) in his division of academic texts into three levels: general service, technical, and sub-technical (academic). It is given close attention in Barber’s (1962) investigation of the grammatical structures and vocabulary in three academic texts. Barber seeks in his study to provide “a list of words which would generally be useful to the science and technology student trying to read specialist textbooks in English” (1962: 36). The list was intended to be applicable for non- English speaking students studying in a range of countries. Barber assumed that his target student population would be fa- miliar with the 2,000 words appearing in West’s (1953) General Service List of English Words and thus excluded...

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