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

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Abstract

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.

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