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The Birth of the Academic Article

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This study is a linguistic analysis of the first two academic periodicals from their creation in 1665 until the end of the seventeenth century. These were the Journal des Sçavans in France and the Philosophical Transactions in England. The analysis is carried out within the framework of Systemic Functional Linguistics. The linguistic features and aspects of the theory necessary for understanding the rest of the book are explained, and the historical situation is described in order to place the texts in the context from which they derived. The corpus is made up of a selection of issues for the years 1665, 1675, 1685 and 1694/5, totalling over 66,000 words for the Journal des Sçavans, and over 77,000 words for the Philosophical Transactions. Thematic structure and progression, types of process, expressions of modality, and nominalised processes are studied in each of the periodicals and the results compared. It is shown that differences in the results for the two journals derive from differing editorial decisions, which themselves are engendered by the historical context.

Published: Feb 15, 2017

Section Chapter Authors
Chapter 1
Getting things started: by way of introduction Janet Joyce
Chapter 2
Linguistic background Janet Joyce
Chapter 3
Historical background David Banks
Chapter 4
The documents to be used: a corpus David Banks
Chapter 5
Thematic structure: a starting point David Banks
Chapter 6
Transitivity: actions, events, states David Banks
Chapter 7
Modality: possibility, ability, obligation David Banks
Chapter 8
Nominalization: reifying processes David Banks
Chapter 9
Winding up and winding down: by way of conclusion David Banks
End Matter
Appendix 1: Estimated number of words David Banks
Appendix 2: Journal des Sçavans corpus David Banks
Appendix 3: Philosophical Transactions corpus David Banks
References David Banks
Author index David Banks
Subject index David Banks


This book by David Banks differs from other works published on academic articles (Bazerman 1988 or Gross 1996) in that it develops a linguistic analytical approach rather than treating the texts from a rhetorical and sociolinguistic viewpoint as had been done before. Moreover, it provides very useful information on the methodology used to compile and analyze such a diachronic corpus. All in all, the reviewer feels that this book should be read by linguists interested in the diachronic study of specialized languages, as well as by linguists who still need to be convinced that diachrony is indeed an essential tool to understand contemporary scientific English.
ASp, la Revue du GERAS

A pioneering work in the field of studying scientific texts of different languages from a systemic functional perspective, thereby presenting research of much practical implication. As such, it is highly recommended for scholars with SFL background or interested in academic discourse analysis.
Discourse Studies

Some interesting structural features of writing for early learned periodicals do indeed emerge that could probably not have been arrived at by any other method. Banks is able to show that superficial similarities between the periodicals—for example, in the distribution of grammatical functions of thematic structure— mask significant differences when broken down by semantic category (indicating, for instance, a greater emphasis on physical description and on the objects of study in Transactions and on people and authors in Journal). He traces significant increases in structural markers of interest in “material actions and events” in both periodicals over the thirty years under review—an intriguing finding, given that the generally higher proportion of these in Transactions is attributed to its greater scientific preoccupation but that Banks reports no corresponding increase in the number of items treating scientific subjects in Journal.

The book is useful in the field of specialised scientific language that is needed in order to get one’s work published in scientific journals in both Anglophone and non-Anglophone scientific writing communities.
The promise that the book makes by drawing on Michael Halliday’s language as a social semiotic makes it an even empowering asset to both Master’s and Doctoral students working in the broad research area of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), beyond both the historical and social contexts of the two journals it has analysed.
Professional and Academic English Journal