Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

The Advice Genre (1400-1599). Genre and Text Type Conventions

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

The Advice Genre (1400-1599). Genre and Text Type Conventions

Article excerpt


The aim of this paper is to characterize the advice text as a genre in the late medieval and early modern English periods. This genre is very popular during this time and is usually found within medical remedy books. For this reason, it has been generally studied within the scope of medieval recipes in historical discourse analysis. In this paper my intention is to show the independent status of the advice text as a genre. A first step for this lies in the characterization of the linguistic features pertaining to the sections that compound this genre and its comparison with the recipe genre. The corpus for this study has been collected from several sources, both edited and unedited. The description of the text type features will be illustrated with examples taken from this corpus. As I show in the conclusion, the advice text is an independent genre with a clear communicative purpose and addressed to an intended audience.

1. Introduction

The concepts of genre and text type have been used indistinctively by different scholars (Biber 1988; Gorlach 1992; Taavitsainen 2001a: 139; Carroll et al. 2003: 8). For this reason several authors have tried to define them according to specific criteria. Authors such as Taavitsainen (1988 and 2001b) and Pahta (1998), among others, have analyzed the concepts of genre and text type, applying this analysis to different types of texts belonging to the medieval period. Martin (1984), Swales (1987 and 1990), Biber (1988), Devitt (1993 and 2000), Bex (1996) and Moessner (2001), among others, have focused on Present Day English texts. Still, there seems to be much confusion between the two so much so that a recipe is often labelled as a genre and as a text type. Devitt (1993 and 2000), Bex (1996), and Moessner (2001) coincide in the fact that the definition of genre is based on external criteria and in that genres are cultural constructs identified by their function and communicative purpose, whereas text types are defined according to internal linguistic features (Biber 1988 and Yw Lee 2001).

One of the clearest definitions of genre is given by Martin (1984: 25) who defines genre as "a staged, goal oriented, purposeful activity in which speakers engage as members of our culture". In this definition genre is related to stages, purpose, audience, activity and to the cultural factors as the external criteria that serve to group texts as genres.

Alonso-Almeida (2008a), following the functional approach to the study of genre, text type and register, also offers a definition of genre and text type when analyzing the Middle English medical charm: "genre is differentiated from text type in the sense that genre is externally defined, whereas text type is characterized according to internal linguistic criteria" (Alonso-Almeida 2008a: 10). He also adds that "[genre] represents the context of culture and how this is manifested in a particular genre in the form of goal oriented stages" (Alonso-Almeida 2008a: 17) following Martin's (1984) definition. This division into goal oriented stages makes us deduct "the type of cultural activity that is expected to be achieved by using the specific texts in a given situational and cultural context" (Alonso-Almeida 2008a: 17). Alonso-Almeida's claim highlights the importance of the cultural context to determine the stages we find in a genre.

In this paper I shall study the medical advice text as a genre in Middle and Early Modern English by focusing on the stage organization of the texts undersurveyed. I will also present the lexicogrammatical features common to each stage. These characteristics will be analyzed and exemplified using a corpus of texts in a time span of two centuries (1400-1600). In doing so, the following objectives are pursued: (i) to offer the most recurrent linguistic features in the advice text, and (ii) to show the independent status of the advice text as a genre.

The remainder of this paper is structured as follows: section 2 describes the remedy books selected for excerpting the examples of the pieces of advice. …

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