Volume 9 (2018) Issue 2 - Book Review Tinnefeld
JLLT Volume 9 (2018) Issue 2.pdf
Journal of Linguistics and Language Teaching

Volume 9 (2018) Issue 2 (PDF)

Ken Hyland: The Essential Hyland. Studies in Applied Linguistics. London et al.: Bloomsbury 2018. (ISBN 978-1-3500-3789-2)

The present, 506 page-long book comprises Professor Hyland's most important articles on academic discourse and, especially, academic writing. They are thematically arranged and thus present an introduction to academic writing and also a testimonial of Ken Hyland's contributions to this field of applied linguistics. The utmost importance of academic writing is estimated by Ken Hyland himself, when he states in his preface:

Through writing, and readers' responses to their writing, individuals learn how things should be done and acquire sets of associations, meanings and tacit beliefs about priorities and values. (IX)

The book is divided in five parts and 19 chapters, followed by an extensive bibliography (463-490) and an Index (491-506). Each part is, in addition to the articles themselves, complemented by an introduction and a commentary by prominent scholars in the respective fields. As the articles published here are reprints and therefore not unknown to the academic world we will focus on these commentaries here.

Part One (1-105) is about “Writing, participation and Identity”. It unites articles on Writing in the university1 (Chapter 1; 6-25) with regards to its most important vocations of educating students, acquiring and teaching knowledge and gaining reputation, Discipline (Chapter 2; 26-48) and its positioning in academic contexts, Participation (Chapter 3; 49-73) of science with respect to its relation with the (academic) community and its expertise, and Community and individuality (Chapter 4; 74-99) on developing identity in the field of applied linguistics. Chuck Bazerman, Professor of Literature, Communication, and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, USA) provides the commentary on Part One (100-105) and generally states that Hyland's

accomplishments in exposing the variations of different dimensions of linguistic practices in different academic domains through corpora studies are exemplary and set him apart from other applied linguists in their comprehensiveness, nuance, and subtlety of understanding, particularly in the elusive areas of identity, affiliation and positioning. (100-101)

He also highlights Hyland's use of interviews for rhetorical analysis which also take the goals of the actual language producer, i.e. the writer, into account (101).

With respect to Chapter 1, he points to the way writing is produced within institutions and is also determined by the practices they use. A better understanding of these processes will not only be beneficial for education, but also help researchers to further their careers and, in an even broader sense, to offer access to even more reliable knowledge.

Referring to Chapter 2 and Hyland's considerations about the means by which authors establish relationships with their readers and identification in the framework of their discipline, Bazerman highlights the necessity for writers to know what and how to write so as to stand out in the respective academic market. For this, working with flexible, fuzzy definitions of what a 'discipline' is has to be preferred to sticking to a rigid definition of this notion.

In the context of Participation (Chapter 3), for Bazerman, Hyland's work has opened significant phenomenological windows – a work which should be continued in the future, with this scope being widened by research to be done upon the discussions, processes and patterns that develop among multiple participants in given communities (104).

Making reference to Chapter 4, Bazerman brings up Ken Hyland's important documentation of certain words individuals use in their respective contexts of study and also mentions the fact that Hyland does no go beyond documentation and does not analyse his data. Such analysis would need to be executed and then have to go beyond the textual level and include the various (i.e. conceptual and social) contexts that are of relevance in a given discipline, inclusive of the relations which these individuals have with and within their field (104).

In a Saussurian approach, Bazerman concludes:

Hyland's vision recognizes that langue is only a codification of what is deployed within parole and comprehensive knowledge of langue alone does not make effective users of language. (105)

Part Two – Interaction, stance and metadiscourse (107-204) comprises the fields Disciplinary cultures, texts and interactions (Chapter 5; 113-133), Stance and engagement (Chapter 6; 134-155), Metadiscourse in academic writing (Chapter 7 (with Polly Tse); 156-178), and Change in attitude? (Chapter 8 (with Kevin Jiang); 179-201). The commentary on Part Two (202-204) is given by Brian Paltridge, Professor of TESOL at the University of Sydney (Australia).

This second part of the book deals with the relationships that academic writers establish with their readers and the strategies they use so as to be recognized by other representatives in their specific field. Their writing is the direct or indirect result of the practices approved by the members (i.e. writers and readers) of this discipline (Chapter 5 and 204).

Stance, which includes an author's pronominal self-mentions (e.g. I or we), hedges (e.g. might, perhaps), boosters (e.g. definitely, in fact or clearly), and attitude markers (e.g. surprisingly, admittedly), is analysed in Chapters 6 and 7 (plus 202, 203). By utilizing these strategies, writers show their awareness as to the presence of their readers and also define their own position with respect to their content and the framework of their discipline. Interestingly, experienced writers seem to use hedges less frequently than academic newcomers, as the former are longer in need to reassure themselves that they are recognised in the academic world.

Attitudinal changes happen when academic writers address their potential readers differently than they used to, as was found by Hyland for writers of research articles, who appear to present their findings in a more impersonal way than they did in former times (Chapter 8 and 204).

Referring to the articles in this second part of the book and addressing Ken Hyland, Brian Paltridge rightly states:

His metadiscourse framework, in particular, enables us to see how, through the use of language, academic writers both present themselves to their readers and interact with them and, in doing this, index membership of their disciplinary communities. (204)

Part Three covers Interactions in peripheral genres (205-280). It encompasses articles on Constructing proximity (Chapter 9; 211-229), Dissertation acknowledgements (Chapter 10; 231-253), and The presentation of self in scholarly life (Chapter 10; 254-276). Part Three is commented on by Vijay K. Bhatia, Adjunct Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (277-280).

Chapter 9 deals with establishing rhetorical proximity between writers and readers in academic papers on the one hand and adaptations of these in reformulated popular versions on the other. Bhatia hints to the difference that Hyland's research makes as compared to studies conducted by other researchers, in that he goes beyond mere corpus analysis and analyses issues like the management of expertise in academic text types or provides supplementary explanations (278). The same is true for the communication between science and society, which, in Hyland's approach, also exceeds traditional corpus analysis (ibid.).

With regards to dissertation acknowledgements (Chapter 10), for Bhatia, Ken Hyland's most important merit is to have found out that academic gratitude is by no means expressed for personal reasons only, but that the ways in which it is presented vary in different sociocultural and disciplinary contexts (278).

Chapter 10 deals with the presentation of scholars on their academic homepages, i.e. those provided by their respective universities and / or academic institutions, by which both the scholar's individual academic identity and his or her visibility in the academic world are displayed. The genre academic homepage thus combines a scholars' self-marketing with the requirements of his or her institution. Bhatia implicitly states that Ken Hyland's merit is to have combined rhetorical genre analysis with corpus analysis and applicable ethnographic procedures (279). With reference to the third part of this book, Bhatia, quasi in a bird's eye view, characterises Ken Hyland's academic development as follows:

So if we see the three chapters in terms of analytical rigour, they are strategically situated in a sequence that illustrates Hyland's progression from somewhat pure corpus analysis to a multidimensional analysis integrating corpus analytical work with ethnographic analytical procedures all within the genre analytical framework. (280)

Part Four is about Features of academic writing (283-386) and includes Academic attribution (Chapter 12; 286-314), Self-mention in research articles (Chapter 13; 315-335), Academic vocabulary (Chapter 14; 336- 354), and Lexical bundles and disciplinary variation (Chapter 15; 355-381). The commentary on this part (382-386) is provided by Diane Belcher, Professor of Applied Linguistics and English as a Second Language at Georgia State University (Atlanta, USA).

With respect to academic attribution, i.e. “Citation and the construction of disciplinary knowledge” (Chapter 12 and 383-384), a field which had not been thoroughly explored by then, just like in other studies of his, Ken Hyland employed a mixed-methods approach, with corpus tools utilised to analyse eighty research article across eight highly different disciplines, combined with insight into different disciplinary practices offered by experts who acted as his informants. According to Belcher, and not only to her, an important finding was that the differences between the hard and soft sciences were particularly remarkable, with the latter displaying more citations in general, more author-oriented citations and more discourse-oriented reporting (as opposed to research-action) verbs. Belcher gathers from these findings that the use of citations be taught in terms of the understanding of and the participation in the creation of disciplinary knowledge, and not just as a way to avoid plagiarism, thus attributing the art of citation the place it actually deserves.

Extending his approach to the phenomenon of self-citation, also using a mixed-method approach and a new corpus being three times as large as his previous one (Chapter 13 and 384), Ken Hyland found self-mention to be more frequent in the soft disciplines. Self-citation, however, was found to be most prevalent in biology, as a hard discipline, most probably due to the fact that in the hard sciences, a scientist is often one of the very few, or even the only one, to conduct research in that particular field. Among the methodological implications Hyland deduces from his findings is that rhetorical reading helps students identify the common practices in their respective disciplines. There seems to be a space for self-reference in any field, but the very practices depend on the making of meaning and people's interaction in the particular disciplinary community.

In an attempt to answer the question of whether there is such a thing as 'academic vocabulary', Hyland and Polly Tse scrutinised the methodology and pedagogical weight of Coxhead's (2000) Academic Word List (AWL) (Chapter 14 and 385). On the basis of a 3.3-million word corpus and including eight (hard and soft) disciplines, they found that only around one third of the word families listed in the AWL were relatively frequent in their own corpus. In addition to this, a given word identified in this corpus may have different meanings when used in (academic) texts, which would relativise the value of the AWL even more. The AWL can, as the authors concluded, therefore not be employed as an easy tool for the writing of academic texts.

Moving from the purely lexical level to the paradigmatic one, Ken Hyland researched upon Lexical bundles and disciplinary variation (Chapter 14 and 385-386), thus widening his scope of interest towards the combination of words. Based on a cross-disciplinary corpus of 3.5 million words, he found that the composition of lexical bundles dissimulated the author's presence in the hard disciplines and that the most important function of bundles was to emphasise writers' interpretations. At any rate, more research is needed to help writers build some awareness of the styles employed in their respective disciplines.

In general view, Belcher's estimation seems to be realistic when she states:

Taken together, what emerges from the four studies just discussed, as in much of Hyland's other work, is an 'academic discourse' whose features are far more varied and indicative of profoundly different ways of seeing and understanding the world than the term itself, especially facile use of it, would seem to suggest. (386).

Part Five deals with Pedagogy and EAP (387-461) and comprises Genre-based pedagogies (Chapter 16; 392-403), Nurturing hedges in the ESP curriculum (Chapter 17; 404-418), Praise and criticism in written feedback (Chapter 18 (with Fiona Hyland); 419-447), and Specificity revisited (Chapter 19; 448-458). This part is commented on by Ann Johns, Professor at the Department of Rhetoric & Writing Studies at San Diego State University (USA) (459-461).

In Chapter 16, Hyland gives his response to 'process', arguing that writing is much more than just a set of cognitive processes: as a rapport-building activity, it represents (at least) a complex mixture of elements that include the writer, the reader(s), the situation, the purpose of writing, and the wording (403).

The pedagogic ideas that Hyland develops on teaching the use of hedges (Chapter 17 and pp. 411) – as those elements in scientific texts that serve to develop academic arguments and to build a relationship with readers – are rather practical and consist in awareness raising by analysing given texts together with students and in having them perform writing tasks so as apply hedging to practice.

Teachers' criticism of student writing is the topic in Chapter 18, where, which is also stressed by Ann Johns, Hyland holds that indirect feedback can lead to misunderstandings and, thus, be counterproductive (444). Giving blunt critical feedback may not in every case be an easy task for teachers to perform, but it may lead to better results in the long run.

The last chapter of the book is a reprints of an article that adds to the argument started by Peter Strevens in 1988, in which Hyland stipulates that the teaching of English for Specific Purposes has to be differentiated from Teaching English for No Obvious Reason. In this context, Hyland asserts that

effective language teaching in the universities involves taking specificity seriously. It means that we must go as far as we can (458) –

a statement which is of utmost importance for the teaching of foreign languages in the future, not only in university contexts.

In sum, we can state that the book reviewed here represents an important publication as Ken Hyland's work on academic writing is very nicely and handily arranged here. Although all the papers collected here had been published before, readers interested in the questions raised in them do not have to search for them at long and at large, but have them at their disposal in form of a representative publication which also gives further weight to Ken Hyland's research.

This representative character of the present book is impressively supported by the five commentators, all outstanding scholar in their respective fields, who give the book a “personal touch' and also contribute to what is very important to Ken Hyland, i.e. to build rapport with him and, in so doing, with his readers.

The high technical quality of the book, in good Bloombsury tradition, also symbolises the importance of the research fields outlined here. Writing may not be one of the most frequently practised activities in the foreign language classroom, where speaking and the teaching of the linguistic inventory (grammar and vocabulary) are still in the lead. Yet, it is certainly on the uptake, in view of the deliberate use of computers and devices like Google Docs in the context of classroom activities. What is more, writing is of eminent value when it comes to understanding the esprit of a given foreign language, and, in contrast to oral communication, it offers students the chance to meditate on language use and usage without being put under time pressure.

What can be said about writing in general can all the more be formulated for academic writing in particular: academic writing is not only of value for the academic world but, in extension, also for many areas of the professional world, where native or non-native language users will have to provide summaries of lengthy texts for their superiors, give presentations of ambitious content that needed to be prepared in form of written texts, or even ghost-write their boss's talk to be given at an important company event. This means that (academic) writing represents one of today's key skills for long-term professional success in the academia and also the professional world. This also means that Ken Hyland's work is not only of interest for the (comparably small) group of academically ambitious university students, but also for those who aim to hold an important position in the economy one day.

To cut a long story short, The Essential Hyland is a handbook which covers highly relevant issues of academic writing and which will certainly enjoy continuous success.


Professor Thomas Tinnefeld

Applied Languages

Saarland University of Applied Sciences

14, Waldhausweg

66123 Saarbrücken


1Only the titles of the respective papers or their subtitles (if more expressive) are quoted here, not both.