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The Development of Scientific Writing

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Winner of the European Society for the Study of English Language and Linguistics Book Award 2010

This book is one of the first applications of a functional approach to language across time. It first summarizes and evaluates previous studies of the development of scientific language, including Halliday’s exploration of this fascinating topic. It then traces the development of scientific writing as a genre, in terms of its linguistic features, from Chaucer’s Treatise on the Astrolabe (the first technical text written in English) almost to the present. It goes on to consider texts by major scientists of the late seventeenth century, and then analyses and discusses a corpus of texts taken from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, covering the period 1700 to 1980.

The main linguistic features studied are the use of passive forms, first person pronouns, nominalization, and thematic structure. This brings out the interestingly different patterns of development in the physical and biological sciences. It also highlights previously unnoticed effects, such as the influence of mathematical modelling on texts in the physical sciences - though not, interestingly, the biological sciences - from the late nineteenth century onwards. Thus scientific language - like virtually all language - is intimately related to the context (here the ‘field’) within which it is produced.

Published: Dec 1, 2008


Section Chapter Authors
Author's note
Author's Note David Banks
Introduction David Banks
Part 1 From Chaucer to Newton
1. Beginning with Chaucer David Banks
2. Between Chaucer and Newton David Banks
3. The Royal Society and Newton David Banks
Part 2 The intervening centuries
4. A way forward David Banks
5. Passives David Banks
6. First person pronoun subjects David Banks
7. Nominalisation David Banks
8. Thematic structure David Banks
9. The semantic nature of themes David Banks
An interpersonal coda
An interpersonal coda David Banks
By way of a conclusion
By way of a conclusion David Banks
Notes David Banks
Appendix 1
Appendix 1 David Banks
Appendix 2
Appendix 2 David Banks
References David Banks
Author Index
Author Index David Banks
Subject Index
Subject Index David Banks

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'...the strength of the work is the link drawn between the social and historical conditions of the development of scientific writing, and the linguistic features of the writing that resulted. The charm of this work is that one feels one is sitting by the fireside with a learned professor, benefiting from his considerable experience and broader knowledge. It is a conversation well worth having.'
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