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Virtaa: kieli-, käännös- ja kirjallisuustieteet muuttuvassa yhteiskunnassa

Diachronic change in philosophical writings (1700-2000): Change within a genre or change to a different genre?


Elena Seoane, Associate Professor of English Linguistics, University of Vigo

This paper explores the variation observed in the rhetoric practices of philosophical writings from the 18th to the 20th century. At the heart of this study is the desire to shed light on a fascinating question raised by Biber and Conrad (2009: 166), that of how to distinguish between diachronic change within a genre and change towards a different genre (see also Hundt et al. 2012; Biber and Gray 2013). This paper attempts to address this question through the examination of a central discourse feature of philosophical writing, that of authorial presence. As we know, academic writers not only convey ideational content in their work, but also project a personal identity through which they attempt to gain credibility. Major differences between disciplines are attested in the rhetorical preferences of academic writers: while impersonality is commonly considered a defining quality of hard sciences, where research is assumed to be purely empirical, the soft sciences are less technical and more interpretative in nature, and thus a more explicitly involved and personal stance is typically expected (Hyland 2008). This is achieved through abundant use of interpersonal features (e.g. hedges, boosters, self-mention). Within the soft sciences, philosophy stands out as particularly inclined to use interpersonal features (cf. Hyland 2001: 220-221; 2006: 37-38).

This paper analyses the tension between detached scientificity and authorial involvement observed in Late Modern English philosophical writing, as represented in the Corpus of English Philosophical Texts (CEPhiT). It explores how philosophical writers of the period created scientific personas in their texts through the use (or avoidance) of one particular interpersonal feature, self-reference. For this purpose, it analyses (i) the presence and rhetorical function of first person pronouns, (ii) the use of impersonal passives, which may serve to avoid self-mention, and (iii) impersonal-subject constructions, which also minimise writer presence. It also analyses diachronic variation and intradisciplinary divergence in the period by means of micro-analyses of the data. Finally, it draws on comparisons with equivalent data from other Present-Day English corpora of philosophical writing in order to reveal changes in discourse in this discipline (Hyland 2006, 2008) and thus address Biber and Conrad’s (2009) question.

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Muutettu: 13.4.2015 21.21 Muokkaa

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