Evaluation in English-Medium Medical Book Reviews

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The aim of this paper is twofold: 1) to identify the evaluative speech acts, either positive or negative, contained in a corpus of 30 English-written medical book reviews published in The British Medical Journal in the period 2000-2009; 2) to analyze the linguistic-rhetorical strategies used to convey this evaluation. Our main results illustrate that various mitigating strategies are used not only to soften criticism, but also to help maintain social harmony and solidarity with the reviewees. Moreover, negative evaluation is on many occasions voiced at aspects outside the book reviewed, which would mean that apart from showing their expertise in the field tackled, book reviewers also want to discuss certain issues of their concern and to put forward their cultural background.

KEYWORDS:

Book reviews, medical journals, evaluation, critical discourse analysis.

RESUMEN

Este trabajo tiene dos objetivos: 1) identificar los actos de habla evaluativos, positivos y negativos, en un corpus de reseñas de 30 libros médicos escritas en inglés y publicadas en el British Medical Journal en el periodo 2000- 2009; 2) analizar las estrategias lingüístico-retóricas utilizadas para transmitir estos actos de habla. Nuestros resultados principales muestran que no sólo se utilizan diversos mecanismos lingüístico-retóricos para atenuar los actos críticos, sino también para ayudar a mantener un clima de armonía social y solidaridad con los autores de los libros reseñados. Además, la evaluación negativa se dirige en numerosas ocasiones a aspectos ajenos a los libros reseñados, lo que implica que aparte de mostrar su competencia en el campo abordado, los reseñadores también desean debatir determinados temas de su interés y hacer gala de su cultural general.

PALABRAS CLAVE:

Reseñas de libros, revistas médicas, evaluación, análisis crítico del discurso.

1. INTRODUCTION

Evaluation being an important feature of language, it is not surprising that it has been the object of many studies, some of them compiled by Thompson & Hunston (2000). Because of its elusiveness (Bondi & Mauranen, 2003: 269) and complexity, the concept of evaluation has overlapped with other concepts such as, for example, appraisal (Martin & White, 2005; Painter, 2003), modality (Hyland, 1998; Stubbs, 1996), or stance (Charles, 2003; Hyland, 2005). Despite these different headings, a point that all them share is that "whenever speakers (or writers) say anything, they encode their attitude towards it" (Hyland & Diani, 2009: 4; Stubbs, 1996: 197) 1. Broadly speaking, it can be said that evaluation is used to refer to "the speaker or writer's attitude or stance towards, viewpoint on, or feelings about the entities that he or she is talking about" (Thompson & Hunston, 2000: 5). Such broad conceptualization allows the inclusion within the concept of evaluation not only of appraisal, modality or stance, but also of the values ascribed to the entities and propositions which are evaluated. Moreover, evaluation plays a vital role in stimulating research and contributes to progression and refinement of scientific knowledge (Sniderman, 1999; Vandenbroucke & de Craen, 2001).

If we take into account the primary sense assigned to evaluation, it is quite understandable that one of the academic genres in which this concept has been widely studied is that of the book review, the major purpose of which is to inform readers about new books in a given discipline and "to evaluate the scholarly work of a professional peer within the scholarly community" (Lindholm-Romantschuk, 1998: 40). Along the same lines, Motta-Roth (1998: 33) remarks that a book review is "an overall structure of information (i.e., description and evaluation of a book) that is commonly associated with the genre as a pattern of discourse". For Hyland (2000: 41) book reviews are "centrally evaluative", whereas for Gea Valor (2000: 12) a book review is "a discourse type which basically involves description, information and evaluation", and for de Carvalho (2001: 262) "the genre is characterized by both descriptive and evaluative functions". …