Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

Presented Discourse in Popular Science Narratives of Discovery: Communicative Side of Thought Presentation

Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

Presented Discourse in Popular Science Narratives of Discovery: Communicative Side of Thought Presentation

Article excerpt


This study is part of a larger research project that investigates portrayal of scientists in popular science bestsellers. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, an attempt to draw attention to the differences in functions of presented discourse in fiction and non-fiction and to demonstrate that the functions observed in fiction do not always constitute the norms.

My analysis focuses primarily on the narratives of discovery within popular science books since a narrative has been proven a potent vehicle for transferring scientific knowledge (see, for example, Blanchard et al., 2015; Hermwille, 2016; Pilkington, 2017; Reitsma, 2010). The present article looks at presented discourse of scientists and its role in the narratives of discovery.

Fu and Hyland (2014: 127, 141) assert that authors of popular science rely heavily on outside voices to make their arguments. Popular science, they argue, delivers its message through presented discourse of the scientific community. Since presented discourse is a primary means of information delivery in popular science texts, it is important to understand how popular science authors employ this mechanism and whether or not presented voices and thoughts of scientists function in the same way as presented voices and thoughts of characters in novels, for example.

Current studies in presented discourse will suggest that its functions in fiction and non-fiction while slightly different are, in general terms, similar. This is especially true when thought presentation in concerned. I explain this by the fact that while extensive research on the forms and functions of discourse presentation in non-fiction has been completed throughout the years (some of it is referenced in this work), the standard for functional distinctions of the categories remains centered on the norms for fiction. My findings, on the other hand, demonstrate that presented discourse, especially presented thought, do not perform the same functions in fiction and non-fiction. For example, the overarching function of inner world presentation assigned to presented thought in both genres is almost entirely absent in popular science.

As a result of my findings, I argue that it is necessary to systematically consider presented discourse functions in non-fiction as stand-alone phenomena rather than as extensions of the uses observed in fiction.

In a way, my look at presented discourse of scientists in the narratives of discovery is a comparison with discourse presentation types and functions identified by Semino and Short (2004) in their seminal Corpus Stylistics: Speech, Writing, and Thought Presentation in a Corpus of English Writing. The reason for this comparison is that the Semino and Short (2004) study is the most comprehensive corpus analysis of presented discourse in non-fiction to date even though it does not deal with non-fiction exclusively. The size of their corpus (258,348 words and 16,533 occurrences of presented discourse) allows for their findings and conclusions to be representative of the genres they examined. At the same time, I remain mindful that Semino and Short (2004) included only certain genres to represent fiction and non-fiction. For instance, the fiction section was represented by novels and non-fiction section by newspapers, biographies, and autobiographies. While it is possible that the newspaper reports analyzed contained scientific news and thus represented the genre of popular science, there is no clear indication of that in Semino and Short (2004). Therefore it is unclear if their findings can be generalized to include the genres beyond those examined. In investigating another non-fiction genre, I am testing their observations and conclude that for the most part their findings are more generalizable than Semino and Short (2004) themselves were able to argue based on the limitations of their corpus.

By contrast with the vast Semino and Short (2004) corpus, my sample is rather small. …

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