Advances in Written Text Analysis

By Malcolm Coulthard | Go to book overview

13

Evaluation and organization in a sample of written academic discourse

Susan Hunston


INTRODUCTION

To evaluate something is to have an opinion about it, particularly in terms of how good or bad it is. The terms of reference for the judgement may be essentially personal, such as when readers decide they find a particular novelist ‘boring’, or they may occur within an institutionalized framework, such as when teachers decide whether a particular text-book is suitable for a particular group of students. (Of course, the ‘personal’ evaluation is itself influenced by cultural considerations, socialization, philosophical back-ground and so on. )

While this evaluation is a mental process, its linguistic expression forms an essential component of discourse. That is, for a text—an exemplum of discourse—to work as communication, there must be frequent indications of attitudes held towards information given in the text and towards the communicative value of the discourse itself. This is a major finding of various approaches to discourse, such as Winter (1982), Hoey (1979), Sinclair and Coulthard (1975), Sinclair (1981), Labov (1972). Expressing evaluation in a text involves both a statement of personal judgement and an appeal to shared norms and values. In that it creates a shared point of view of speaker/writer and hearer/reader, its meaning is essentially interpersonal.

Here I wish to present a way of looking at evaluation which allows texts to be analysed in terms of their evaluative language alone. The method of analysis will be demonstrated with one article, reprinted as an appendix at the end of this chapter. The resulting analysis will be used to illustrate the kind of information that can be obtained in this way, with especial reference to the issue of text organization.

The text that has been chosen for analysis is ‘The spontaneous use of thank you by preschoolers as a function of sex, socioeconomic status, and listener status’, hereafter referred to as SUTY, written by Becker and Smenner and published in the journal Language in Society in 1986. It is essentially the report of experimental work undertaken by the writers, and is thus a useful vehicle for demonstrating this approach to evaluation, which was developed originally with scientific experimental research articles (Hunston 1989).

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