Plenary 2: “Is that a fact? – managing transitions across everyday and academic argument”

The second plenary will be delivered by Professor Hilary Nesi from Coventry University. Her lecture will focus on managing transitions across everyday and academic argument.

In some countries, including Britain, it is considered important for schoolchildren to learn to distinguish between fact and opinion, so that they can think more critically and recognise bias in advertisements and other kinds of persuasive text. Critical discourse analysts take the same approach at a more advanced level,  to reveal underlying prejudice in media and political discourse.

Training in the detection of misleading arguments is probably not such a high priority for most EAP learners, however. In EAP, notions surrounding fact and opinion may be more important for text production than reception, because academic speakers and writers need to be able to choose between asserting ‘facts’ and expressing ‘opinions’ in accordance with the demands of particular genres and audience relationships. Just as opinion is sometimes dressed up as ‘fact’ in everyday texts, so what might be counted as factual information is sometimes dressed up as ‘opinion’ in academic texts. This happens not in order to mislead, but in order to signal original contributions to knowledge, and to open up debate.

EAP learners often have problems moving from assertion  to the acknowledgement of other perspectives. There are a number of reasons for this, environmental, linguistic and cultural. Learners are most exposed to texts (such as textbooks) that take an authoritative stance, for example, and the linguistic resources for signalling opinions are more sophisticated than those needed to  make  absolute assertions of fact. Learners also probably receive mixed messages about the extent to which their own opinions count, in the EAP classroom and in the  disciplines. I have even come across cases of EAP learners being trained to make bald claims, because this is perceived to be the ‘Western’ communicative style.

This talk will share some examples of EAP learner language which is inappropriately assertive, and discuss how and when learners should  make the transition from presenting information as ‘fact’  to offering it as ‘opinion’.

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hilary-nesiHilary Nesi is Professor in English Language at Coventry University. Her research activities largely concern the discourse of English for academic purposes, and the design and use of dictionaries and reference tools in academic contexts. She was principal investigator for the projects to create the BASE corpus of British Academic Spoken English and the BAWE corpus of British Academic Written English. Both of these are freely available to download, or access online via Sketch Engine. She was also responsible for the EASE series of multimedia EAP speaking and listening materials, and  led the project to produce online academic writing materials for the British Council ‘Learn English’ website. She was the co-author of Genres across the Disciplines: Student writing in higher education (Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Her full profile can be found on the Coventry University website.

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