Intercultural variation in academic discourse: Theme zones and the build-up of coherence in research articles

Open access


This paper explores the form and function of the initial part of a sentence, the “Theme zone” (Hannay, 1994; Fetzer, 2008), in the genre of research articles, with a threefold purpose. First, it deals with a comparative analysis of Theme zone patterns (i.e. employment of simple and multiple Themes – the latter being several different configurations of topical, interpersonal and textual Themes) in a corpus of research articles written by English authors and Czech EAL writers. The aim is to determine to what extent these writers differ in thematization and trace possible reasons for the differences. Second, the study offers an intercultural comparison of the realizations of topical, interpersonal and textual Themes, and finally, it looks into thematic progression in two excerpts from the corpus and how the Theme zone contributes to the construal of textual, interpersonal and topical coherence. In all three parts, intercultural variation can be observed, be it Czech authors’ preference for the [textual Theme] [topical Theme] configuration, their more frequent use of exclusive we and abstract rhetors in topical Themes and higher employment of textual Themes in the Theme zone, or their inclination to build coherence on a local rather than a more global level.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Bhatia V. K. 1993. Analysing genre: Language use in professional settings. Essex UK: Pearson Education Limited.

  • Biber D. 2006. University language: A corpus-based study of spoken and written registers. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

  • Biber D. and Conrad S. 2019. Register genre and style (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Biber D. Johansson S. Leech G. Conrad S. and Finegan E. 1999. The Longman grammar of spoken and written English. London: Longman.

  • Bublitz W. 1999. Introduction: Views on coherence. In: W. Bublitz U. Lenk and E. Ventola eds. Coherence in spoken and written discourse. Amsterdam Philadelphia: John Benjamins pp. 1-7.

  • Chang P. and Lee M. 2019. Exploring textual and interpersonal Themes in the expository essays of college students of different linguistic backgrounds. English for Specific Purposes vol. 54 pp. 75-90.

  • Couture B. 1986. Effective ideation in written text: A functional approach to clarity and exigence. In: B. Couture ed. Functional approaches to writing: Research perspectives. Norwood/NJ: Ablex pp. 69-92.

  • Čmejrková S. and Daneš F. 1997. Academic writing and cultural identity: The case of Czech academic writing. In: A. Duzsak ed. Culture and styles of academic discourse. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter pp. 40-62.

  • Daneš F. 1974. Functional sentence perspective and the organization of the text. In: F. Daneš ed. Papers on functional sentence perspective. Prague: Publishing House of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences pp. 106-128.

  • Dontcheva-Navratilova O. and Povolná R. eds. 2009. Coherence and cohesion in spoken and written discourse. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

  • Dontcheva-Navratilova O. 2011. Coherence in political speeches. Brno: Masaryk University.

  • Dontcheva-Navratilova O. 2014. The changing face of Czech academic discourse. In: K. Bennett ed. The semiperiphery of academic writing. Palgrave Macmillan: London pp. 39-61.

  • Dontcheva-Navratilova O. 2015. Cross-cultural variation in citation practices: A comparative analysis of citations in Czech English-medium and international English-medium linguistic journals. In: R. Plo Alastrué and C. Pérez-Llantada eds. English as a scientific and research language: Debates and discourses. English in Europe vol. 2. Berlin and Boston: Mouton de Gruyter pp. 185-205.

  • Duszak A. 1994. Academic discourse and intellectual styles. Journal of Pragmatics vol. 21 pp. 291-313.

  • Eggins S. 2004. An introduction to systemic functional linguistics. New York and London: Continuum.

  • Fetzer A. 2008. Theme zones in English media discourse: Forms and functions. Journal of Pragmatics vol. 40 pp. 1543-1568.

  • Firbas J. 1992. Functional sentence perspective in written and spoken communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Fløttum K. Dahl T. and Kinn T. 2006. Academic voices: Across languages and disciplines. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

  • Flowerdew L. 2004. The argument for using English specialized corpora to understand academic and professional language. In: U. Connor and T. Upton eds. Discourse in the professions. Amsterdam: John Benjamins pp. 11-33.

  • Givón T. 1995. Coherence in text vs. coherence in mind. In: M. A. Gernsbacher and T. Givón eds. Coherence in spontaneous text. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins pp. 59-115.

  • Grundy P. 2013. ELF aca:demic writing and the semanticization of thought. Discourse and Interaction vol. 6 no. 1 pp. 25-39.

  • Gumperz J. 1977. Sociocultural knowledge in conversational inference. In: M. Saville-Troike ed. Linguistics and anthropology. Washington: Georgetown University Press pp. 191-211.

  • Halliday M. A. K. 1971. Linguistic function and literary style. In: D. C. Freeman ed. Essays in modern linguistics. London/New York: Methuen pp. 325-361.

  • Halliday M. A. K. 1978. Language as social semiotic: The social interpretation of language and meaning. London: Edward Arnold.

  • Halliday M. A. K. 1989. Functions of language. In: M. A. K. Halliday and R. Hasan. Language context and text: Aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press pp. 15-28.

  • Halliday M. A. K. 1994. An introduction to functional grammar (2nd ed.). London: Edward Arnold.

  • Halliday M. A. K. and Matthiessen C. M. I. M. 2004. An introduction to functional grammar (3rd ed.). London: Hodder Arnold.

  • Halliday M. A. K. and Matthiessen C. M. I. M. 2014. Halliday’s introduction to functional grammar (4th ed.). London and New York: Routledge.

  • Halloran S. 1984. The birth of molecular biology: An essay in the rhetorical criticism of scientific discourse. Rhetoric review vol. 3 no. 1 pp. 70-83.

  • Hannay M. 1994. The Theme zone. In: R. Boogart and J. Noordegraaf eds. Nauwe betrekkingen. Voor Theo Janssen bij zijn vijftigste verjaardag. Amsterdam: Stichting Neerlandistiek Vrije Universiteit and Munster: Nodus Publikationen pp. 107-117.

  • Hannay M. 2007. Patterns of multiple Theme and their role in developing English writing skills. In: C. S. Butler R. H. Downing and J. Lavid eds. Functional perspectives on grammar and discourse: In honour of Angela Downing. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company pp. 257-278.

  • Harwood N. 2005. ‘We do not seem to have a theory… The theory I present here attempts to fill this gap’: Inclusive and exclusive pronouns in academic writing. Applied linguistics vol. 26 no. 3 pp. 343-375.

  • Harwood N. 2009. An interview-based study of the functions of citations in academic writing across two disciplines. Journal of Pragmatics vol. 41 pp. 497-518.

  • Hawes T. and Thomas S. 2012. Theme choice in EAP and media language. Journal of English for Academic Purposes vol. 11 pp. 175-183.

  • Hawes T. 2015. Thematic progression in the writing of students and professionals. Ampersand vol. 2 pp. 93-100.

  • Hůlková I. 2017. Conjunctive adverbials viewed as pragmatic markers in the genre of research articles. Brno: Masaryk University.

  • Hyland K. 1996. Writing without conviction? Hedging in science research articles. Applied Linguistics vol. 17 no. 4 pp. 433-454.

  • Hyland K. 1998. Hedging in scientific research articles. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

  • Hyland K. 1999. Academic attribution: Citation and the construction of disciplinary knowledge. Applied Linguistics vol. 20 no. 3 pp. 314-367.

  • Hyland K. 2001. Humble servants of the discipline? Self-mention in research articles. English for Specific Purposes vol. 20 pp. 207-226.

  • Hyland K. 2002. Authority and invisibility: Authorial identity in academic writing. Journal of Pragmatics vol. 34 no. 8 pp. 1091-1112.

  • Hyland K. 2004. Disciplinary discourses: Social interactions in academic writing. (Michigan classics edition). Ann Arbor MI: The University of Michigan Press.

  • Hyland K. 2005. Metadiscourse: Exploring interaction in writing. London/New York: Continuum.

  • Hyland K. and Salager-Meyer F. 2008. Science writing. In: B. Cronin ed. Annual review of information science and technology vol. 42 pp. 297-338.

  • Johns A. M. 1997. Text role and context: Developing academic literacies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Kilgarriff A. Rychlý P. Smrz P. and Tugwell D. 2004. The Sketch Engine. In: Proc Eleventh EURALEX International Congress. Lorient France.

  • Knittlová D. 1990. Funkční styly v angličtině a češtině. Olomouc: Univerzita Palackého Filozofická fakulta.

  • Kortmann B. 1991. Free adjuncts and absolutes in English: Problems of control and interpretation. London: Routledge.

  • Leech G. 1983. Principles of pragmatics. London/New York: Longman.

  • Lyons J. 1977. Semantics (Vol. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Martin J. R. 1985. Process and text: Two aspects of human semiosis. In: J. D. Benson and W. S. Greaves eds. The handbook of discourse analysis. Malden MA/Oxford: Blackwell Publishers pp. 248-274.

  • Matthiessen C. M. I. M Teruya K. and Lam M. 2010. Key terms in systemic functional linguistics. London/New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.

  • Mauranen A. 2012. Exploring ELF. Academic English shaped by non-native speakers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Mur-Dueñas P. 2007. “I/we focus on…: A cross-cultural analysis of self-mentions in business management research articles.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes vol. 6 143-162.

  • Mur-Dueñas P. 2011. An intercultural analysis of metadiscouse features in research articles written in English and in Spanish. Journal of Pragmatics vol. 43 no. 2 pp. 3068-3079.

  • Povolná R. 2012. Cross-cultural variation in the degree of dialogicality in research articles: On some text-organizing devices. In: O. Dontcheva-Navratilova R. Jančaříková G. Miššíková and R. Povolná. Coherence and Cohesion in English Discourse. Brno: Masaryk University. 29-58.

  • Povolná R. 2015. On cross-cultural variation in the use of conjuncts in research articles by Czech and native speakers of English: Can conjuncts contribute to the interactive and dialogic character of academic texts? In: R. Plo Alastrué and C. Pérez-Llantada eds. English as a scientific and research language: Debates and discourses. English in Europe vol. 2. Berlin and Boston: Mouton de Gruyter pp. 115-140.

  • Ruiying Y. and Allison D. 2003. Research articles in applied linguistics: Moving from results to conclusions. English for Specific Purposes vol. 22 pp. 365-385.

  • Schmied J. 2009. Discourse approaches to specialised and popular academic English: Analysing adverbial clause connections. In: O. Dontcheva-Navratilova and R. Povolná eds. Coherence and cohesion in spoken and written discourse. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing pp. 167-181.

  • Schmied J. 2011. Academic writing in Europe: A survey of approaches and problems. In: J. Schmied ed. Academic writing in Europe: Empirical perspectives. Göttingen: Cuvillier Verlag pp. 1-22.

  • Schmied J. 2015. Academic writing in English in comparison: Degree adverbs connecting adverbials and contrastive/concessive markers in the ChemCorpus and comparable data-bases. In: R. Plo Alastrué and C. Pérez-Llantada eds. English as a scientific and research language: Debates and discourses. English in Europe vol. 2. Berlin and Boston: Mouton de Gruyter pp. 159-184.

  • Šinkūnienė J. 2018. The power of English: I and we in Lithuanian Lithuanian English and British English research writing. In: P. Mur-Dueñas and J. Šinkūnienė eds. Intercultural perspectives on research writing. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins pp. 59-80.

  • Swales J. M. 1990. Genre analysis. English in academic and research settings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Swales J. M. 2004. Research genres: Exploration and applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Thompson G. 2001. Interaction in academic writing: Learning to argue with the reader. Applied Linguistics vol. 22 no.1 pp. 58-78.

  • Thompson G. 2014. Introducing functional grammar. (3rd ed.). London/New York: Routledge.

  • Thompson P. and Tribble C. 2001. Looking at citations: Using corpora in English for academic purposes. Language Learning and Technology vol. 5 no. 3 pp. 91-105.

  • Vande Kopple W. 1985. Some exploratory discourse on metadiscourse. College Composition and communication vol. 36 pp. 82-93.

  • Vassileva I. 2001. Commitment and detachment in English and Bulgarian academic writing. English for Specific Purposes vol. 20 pp. 83-102.

  • Vassileva I. 1998. “Who am I/who are we in academic writing?” International Journal of Applied Linguistics vol. 8 no. 2 pp. 163-192.

  • Wei J. 2016. Thematic choice in Chinese college students’ English essays. English for Specific Purposes vol. 41 pp. 50-67.

  • Yakhontova T. 2006. Cultural and disciplinary variation in academic discourse: The issue of influencing factors. Journal of English for Academic Purposes vol. 5 pp. 153-167.

  • Zapletalová G. 2009. Communication strategies in academic texts. In: Ch. Hopkinson L. Sedlářová R. Tomášková S. Wilamová and G. Zapletalová. Communication strategies in text and talk. Ostrava: Filozofická fakulta Ostravské Univerzity pp. 133-190.

  • Zareva A. 2013. Self-mention and the projection of multiple identity roles in TESOL graduate student presentations: The influence of the written academic genres. English for Specific Purposes vol. 32 pp. 72-83.

Journal information
Impact Factor

CiteScore 2018: 0.25

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.144
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.447

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 70 71 31
PDF Downloads 87 87 29