An Overview of Variation
KEN HYLAND Disciplinary Differences: Language Variation in Academic Discourses 1. Introduction Until fairly recently research in academic discourse mainly concerned itself with elaborating what were seen as broad features of the register or describing general regularities of discourse structure. Scientific writing was taken to be the prototypical exemplar of academic discourse and considerable work was invested in describing the ways it represented meanings in an objective and formal way through resources such as lexical density, nominalised style and impersonality. Other writers approached academic texts from a wider angle, seeking to reveal the rhetorical patterning of discourse units such as problem- solution or hypothetical-real (Hoey 1983) or the ways that functional Rhetorical-Grammatical units nested together (Lackstrom / Selinker / Trimble 1973). Academic discourse research therefore largely focused on individual disciplines to exemplify general principles of academic writing. A more sophisticated appreciation of language variation has emerged over the last decade accompanied, and influenced, by the accelerating interest in the concept of genre since Swales’ seminal Genre Analysis in 1990. Genre has been an enormously valuable tool in providing a more powerful means of exploring situated language use and allowing us to see texts as stabilized sites of social action. Its influence, however, has perhaps led us to over-emphasize the resemblances and correspondences between texts rather than their differences. This is because genre helps us to harness the power of generalization: grouping together texts that have important similarities in terms of rhetorical purpose, form and audience, and then exploring Ken Hyland 18...
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