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Disagreeing in Academic Written Discourse in the Discipline of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Disagreeing, although face-threatening, is an important but difficult aspect of academic writing. As such, disagreeing in, particularly, written academic discourse is a challenge for many students and novice writers, but one that must be embraced to arm them with skills and understandings to survive and thrive in academic settings. Existing studies (e.g. Pomerantz, 1984; Locher, 2004; Stadler, 2006) have made important contribution on the strategies and functions of disagreement in spoken contexts; however, to date only Hunston (1993) and Salager-Meyer (1999) have addressed disagreement in research articles. It is therefore necessary to conduct more data-based research to further understand how academics disagree with other named researchers and/or their work.

This study investigated how British professors typically expressed disagreement with named researchers in 16 TAL (Theoretical and Applied Linguistics) articles written in a nonquantitative (i.e. qualitative or a combination of qualitative and quantitative) framework and published in leading journals or books between 2000 and 2011. 11 interviews were also used in this study to explore the TAL authors’ reasons for writing the disagreement moves and steps the way they did.

This study has reinforced Hunston’s (1993) findings that disagreement occurs when there is a differential between the opposed claim and proposed claim, but the differential can be resolved by presenting the opposed claim negatively and the proposed claim positively. It has also reinforced Salager-Meyer’s (1999) findings that indirect disagreement expressions are frequent in papers written after the 1930s. In addition, this study extends their findings by developing a theoretical and/or analytical framework to further explain how a disagreement instance is structured and expressed. Based on the results of text analysis, the 69 disagreement instances in the 16 TAL articles could first be classified into one to three disagreement moves: pre-, core- and post-disagreement moves. Next, using move analysis again, the pre-, core- and postdisagreement moves could be further classified into various disagreement steps. The coredisagreement move, for example, could be further classified into three broad categories of ‘Explicit Disagreement Steps’, ‘Less-Explicit Disagreement Steps’ and ‘Implicit Disagreement Steps’. Moreover, the text analysis results showed that the TAL authors frequently used the precore- post-disagreement move sequence in the TAL articles. The interviews with the TAL authors suggested that this could be attributed to persuasion, reviewer power and convention. The text analysis results also found that the TAL authors preferred less-explicit and implicit core-disagreement steps. The eight reasons given for the TAL authors’ choice of the lessexplicit and implicit core-disagreement steps centred on showing evidence, implicitness, nonagonistic reasoning, appreciation, caution and persuasiveness, respect to opposed writers and how power operates in British culture. Furthermore, seven of the core-disagreement steps found in the TAL articles were found to be similar to some spoken disagreement strategies mentioned in previous studies. This might suggest that some core-disagreement steps were transferred from spoken English to the written academic discourse.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Susan Hunston (External person) (Supervisor)
Award date2017


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