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The Pragmatics of Academic Writing

A Relevance Approach to the Analysis of Research Article Introductions


Nicola Owtram

This volume investigates to what extent existing approaches to pragmatics and discourse shed light on how the form of a text creates stylistic effects. Taking a cross-cultural perspective, this book focuses on five key stylistic features of writing – paragraph structure, length and construction of sentences, organisation of information in sentences, relative formality of vocabulary, amount of nominalisation – widely seen as partly responsible for the different impressions created by academic writing in English and Italian. The author develops a theoretical framework for the investigation of intuitions about stylistic differences from a contrastive point of view. To this end, the book gives an overview of recent scholarly approaches to writing and reading, genre studies, contrastive rhetoric and the notions of style and stylistics, together with an assessment of several individual approaches.


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5. Relevance Theory: Comprehension and Style 151


5. Relevance Theory: Comprehension and Style 5.1. Introduction In Chapters Three and Four we looked at what style manuals and a range of more theoretical approaches can tell us about the differences between English and Italian academic writing, and about the questions raised at the beginning of the book. The conclusion reached was that although some intuitive insights are captured by each approach, not a lot has been done to develop a systematic pragmatic theory which enables us to look at communicators’ choices in a comparative perspective. In this chapter, I will outline a theory – relevance theory – that can offer some answers to these questions. Let me start by highlighting what I believe makes this theory particularly attractive. For me, the key is its treatment of style. At the end of Chapter Two, we looked at some recent approaches to style and stylistics and considered how they might help us understand why a writer makes the choices she does, and what tools they can provide for describing these choices and their effects on interpretation. As we saw, a key element that was missing from these accounts was a full-fledged pragmatic theory. This is what I think relevance theory can provide. The attraction of relevance theory is that it views all choices made by communicators among alternative forms of expression as a question of style. On this approach, style is not an optional extra exclusive to literary texts, analysable as a separate component of a text; on the contrary, it is...

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