Accountability and the making of knowledge statements : a study of academic discourse

Abstract: This study investigates the manifestation of speaker accountability in connection with knowledge statements in two different kinds of academic discourse. The study focuses on knowledge statements which feature a set of knowledge stating verbs, namely argue, claim, suggest, propose, maintain, assume and believe. A corpus is used as the empirical basis and a general metadiscursive approach primarily informed by ideas from a recent account of metadiscourse (Hyland 2005a) is adopted (combined with reasoning from dialogic frameworks, e.g. Todorov 1984, Bakhtin 1999). The study falls into four parts: First, the study establishes what it is in the utterance that affects the manifestation of speaker accountability in connection with knowledge statements; speaker accountability is associated with how vocally present or absent speakers are in their texts at the particular point of the knowledge statement, i.e. as connected to the concept of discourse voice. Discourse voice maps directly onto a scalar conception of accountability and a model describing this interactive relationship is proposed. Second, the study investigates differences between the knowledge stating verbs selected with respect to their occurrence in typical accountability contexts (i.e. contexts in which speakers are accountable to different degrees). The result of the corpus investigation indicates that the verbs investigated display significant differences in terms of typical accountability contexts. For example, believe is found to be a typical High accountability verb whereas claim is typically found in Low accountability contexts and suggest occurs as a typical Medium-to-High accountability verb. Third, the study also investigates potential differences in the typical accountability contexts of the knowledge stating verbs across two different academic disciplines. The corpus is divided into two sub-corpora, one part featuring texts from two linguistic journals and the other part featuring texts from two journals of literary theory and literary history. The outcome of the investigation is that there are few significant differences across the two sub-corpora. Knowledge stating verbs appear to occur in similar kinds of accountability contexts in linguistic and in literary texts. Finally, the study addresses the issue of what accountability is, i.e. its status in a theory of language. It is established that accountability can be explained by appeal to social knowledge. Such social knowledge is addressed at the level of metadiscourse in communication. The discussion leads to the proposal of a layered concept of metadiscourse where accountability is claimed to be directly associated with higher-level metadiscourse.