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Academic-scientific monographs as specimens of expert-to-expert communication

Authors of monographs, research articles, academic essays, conference papers, and scholarly book reviews in specialist

journals tend to employ a wide variety of stylistic devices to give their own elaboration of a topic more prominence. Thus,

in the text types of description, narration, exposition, and argumentation we may come across different figures of speech,

among them metaphors and allusions to proverbs and quotations, and striking modifications of phraseological units. These

may occur in genres of both the natural and social sciences but vary in the individual text. In the last instance, authors

have their personal preferences regarding stylistic means.

The following extract from the monograph Forms of Talk by the sociolinguist Erving Goffman ( 1981) may serve as an example. Goffman clearly enjoys playing with idiomatic phrases and quotations, as in the Introduction:

(7) Thus, in talk about how individuals acted or will act, we can get by with a small repertoire of alludings and

simulations. Fiction writers and stage performers extend these everyday capacities, carrying the ability to

reinvoke beyond that possessed by the rest of us. But even here only sketching is found. So it remains to

microanalysts of interaction to lumber in where the self-respecting decline to tread. A question of pinning with

our ten thumbs what ought to be secured with a needle. With my own thumbs, in this volume I want to hold up

three matters for consideration . . . (Goffman 1981: 2)

Goffman's dual allusion can only be decoded if the reader is familiar with English literature, but the discovery of the original

source which the author has modified may give the reader intellectual pleasure. Goffman implicitly refers to the famous

quotation from Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism ( 1711) which reads: 'Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread.' This

quotation has' become a so-called winged word and is to be found in most of the current dictionaries of English quotations.

It means: 'Foolish people act hastily and do or say things that wiser people would avoid. Angels here represent people of

wisdom' (Ridout and Witting 1967: 69). Goffman resumes the idea of rashness and clumsiness by his allusion to the

proverbial saying ten


thumbs (meaning 'unskilled hands': one can say of an awkward person: 'His fingers are all thumbs').

As shown in the following example from the same source, Goffman seems fond of modifying quotations from English

literature. The formulation 'social life is but a stage' refers to Shakespeare's play As You Like It (where Jacques says

meditatively: 'All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players . . .'). Goffman writes:

(8) So three themes, ritualization, participation framework, and embedding. It is their interplay that will be at

issue. . . . In what follows, then, I make no large literary claim that social life is but a stage, only a small

technical one: that deeply incorporated into the nature of talk are the fundamental requirements of theatricality.

(Goffman 1981: 4)

In a similar way, the monograph English for Specific Purposes ( 1987), written by Tom Hutchinson and Alan Waters and

intended for applied linguists and practising foreign language teachers, abounds in literary allusions. The authors have

chosen a motto from English literature and world literature (including the Bible and Chinese philosophy) to introduce a new

chapter, and they have used the structure, plot, and vocabulary of a fairy tale to illustrate the diversification of technical

discourse by means of an allegory, entitled The City of ELT (i.e. English Language Teaching). In addition to these stylistic

devices, they use idioms and phrases to make their description livelier and more convincing:

(9) (a) The target situation analysis stage marked a certain 'coming of age' for ESP. What had previously been

done very much in a piecemeal way, was now systematized and learner's need was apparently placed at the

centre of the course design process. It proved in the event to be a false dawn. As we see in the following

chapters the concept of needs that it was based on was far too simple. (Hutchinson and Waters 1987: 12)(b)

Conclusion: Other options . . . We have noted that there is much common ground between learners of

apparently very different subject specialisms . . . Students and sponsors might feel that they are only getting

their money's worth if they get a tailor-made course. Even so, a few strategic cosmetic changes may solve this

problem. . . .For those who, in the end, feel they have to write new materials, here are a few hints:


A. Don't re-invent the wheel. Use existing materials as a source for ideas.

B. It's better to work in a team, if only to retain your sanity.

C. Don't set out to write the perfect materials on the first draft.


Materials can always be improved. Do what you can and try it out. Use what you learn from this experience

and revise and expand the materials.


E. Don't underestimate the time needed for materials writing. It can be a very time-consuming business.

F. Pay careful attention to the appearance of your materials. If they look boring and scruffy, they will be treated as such.

G. Good luck! (Hutchinson and Waters 1987: 125)


The authors use the metaphor to come of age (a phraseological unit meaning 'to become old enough to be responsible in

law'). The phrase in a piecemeal way means 'gradually', 'piece by piece', 'one thing after the other'. A false dawn is a

metaphor (not a proper idiom) designating 'a deceptive new beginning'. The expression tailor-made stands for the idea of

'appropriate (ness)'. Cosmetic changes is a clichй, an idiomatic phrase which refers to superficial changes which have no

lasting effect and do not touch the essence of a problem. The hints for the teacher who has embarked on writing teaching

material contain a proverbial saying to re-invent the wheel ('to do something superfluous; to spend or waste one's energy

on the wrong object'). The colloquial, familiar note of address is evident in the use of the phrasal verbs (set out, try out)

and in the routine formula Good luck!

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