TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. September 2010

Sektion 2.2. Identity, Authenticity, Locality, Urbanity and Speech Community: A New Sociolinguistic Perspective | Identität, Authentizität, lokale- und städtische Veränderungen und Sprachgemeinschaften: Eine neue soziolinguistische Perspektive
Sektionsleiter | Section Chairs: Meryem Şen (Kocaeli University, Turkey), İmran Karabağ

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Beyond the borders of the speech communities:
Construction of identity  as a ‘member’ of the ‘global’  academic discourse community

Hatice Cubukcu (Cukurova University, Adana, Turkey) [BIO]




This paper seeks to describe the linguistic strategies that academics  employ  while  claiming   identities  as   ‘members’ of the global  academic discourse community. Data obtained from three international conferences on Linguistics  comprise questions and comments issued by the audience during the contributions phase following  conference presentations. The micro analysis of the data indicates that the researchers have intensively made use of meta discourse while providing feedback for the conference presentations through which they also displayed their academic competence and thus claimed identity proper as  members of the global  academic discourse community. More significantly, this process described in the research illustrates how strictly the discoursal practices of the individual researcher are constrained by the norms of the global discourse community.          



While English has become  ‘the  lingua franca of the whole world’, it has also been the major defining feature of the ‘global academic ‘discourse community’.  Discourse community as a socio-rhetorical construct,  may be defined as “a group of individuals bound by a common interest who communicate through approved channels and whose discourse is regulated ”(Porter,1992:38).  According to Swales (1990, 1993), “ a threshold level of membership” to  a discourse community,  requires “suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise”  along with the knowledge of shared norms and values. (also see. Swales 1983; Bizzell,1990; Miller, 1993). Claiming membership of the academic discourse community, then, calls for, among other things,  acquiring proficiency in the academic genres, i.e., the mastery of  their rhetorical patterns (Swales, 1990; Rowlet-Jolivet and Carter-Thomas,2005);  and ‘discoursal expertise’, i.e.; the acquisition of  academic competence,  that generally  needs to be displayed  in the English language. We may assume that   this  process,  mainly involves the penetration of   macro- level  norms and constraints of the discourse community into the micro(individual)  practices, the consequences  of which seem to be  significant  both for the individual researcher  and eventually for the society of which the  researcher is a member of.  To exemplify, internalizing the ‘required’  rhetorical patterns in academic communication  entails  internalizing    the ‘required’  rationalization  models (i.e., thinking systems).  And, yet the acquisition of  academic competence seems to be an inevitable task for the researcher to become a member of  the global  academic discourse community; as otherwise, his/her  recognition as a  scholar is at stake. Shortly, this is where the  buzzy term, ‘global’ fits  in this study.

Conventions of academic communication has been intensively investigated through the written forms such as, research articles, book reviews,  dissertations abstracts etc (e.g. Hyland,1998; Nuyts, 2000; Thompson, 2005), because such significant genres, as expressed by Hyland (1998, p.439),  “…are integral to a discipline’s  methodology as they ensure that information is conveyed in ways that conform to its norms and ideology.  Such norms and ideologies which aresanctioned by a consensus among community members “both constrain the use of particular discursive  forms and authorize permitted variations within them.”

However, although  much of the academic communication takes place in speech  – more than in writing, as Mauranen (2001) claims, limited attention has been directed  to the investigation of  spoken academic genres(1). Such studies have  examined  some characteristic features of  spoken forms, such as, rhetorical patterns, meta-discourse, discourse organization etc,  in lectures and conference presentations ( e.g. Bamford, 2005; Rowlet-Jolivet and Carter-Thomas, 2005). Also, the need for  investigating oral academic genres was heavily emphasized   towards helping scientific researchers participate more effectively in the discourse practices in their fields.

In this study, while I investigate the linguistic strategies that academics employ to construct  identities  as   ‘members’ of the global  academic discourse community, I will focus on a  specific type of  spoken academic activity,  namely, the ‘contributions’ section of conference presentations, during which the  audience  issue their questions and comments regarding the paper(s) presented in that session. 

I also assume that this study will yield  implications regarding two more issues; namely,  a) the participant researchers’ concepts of ‘academic competence’ and, b) some   characteristic features of the ‘contributions’ section of conference presentations, which I  consider to be a sub-genre, following Rowlet-Jolivet and Carter-Thomas (2005) who use the same term for the ‘introduction’ sections of conference presentations.

This paper will develop in the following fashion: first, I will present three basic  terms, important for the construction of the study, namely, discourse community. academic competence and  meta discourse before describing the data and the method of analysis  respectively. The key concept ‘identity,’ has been reserved to be  presented there in the methodology section in its relation to  interactional discourse. In the findings section the data will be categorized, and exemplified. And the conclusion section provides an overall view of the work  and the main points suggested..


Discourse Community

Although the  term discourse community draws upon the concept of Hymes’  speech community,(2) it shows some basic differences  in that,  while discoursal characteristics of the speech community develops around the  communicative needs such as socialization or group solidarity,   the concept of  discourse community itselfis  a “socio-rhetorical construct”  (Swales,1990, 1993). 

Some basic features of discourse community are highlighted in Swales (1993) as follows:

  1. DC has a broadly agreed set of common public goals: ie. these public goals may be          formally inscribed in documents (as in associations) or they may be  tacit.
  2. It has mechanism of intercommunication among its members.
  3. It uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback.
  4. It utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims..
  5. It has developed and continues to develop discoursal expectations. They may involve apriority of topics, the form,  function and positioning discoursal elements.
  6. It has acquired some specific lexis.
Global academic discourse community which I use as a cover term in this study, refers to a rather idealized homogeneous construct which does not actually exist on its own right, but   works through a wide spectrum of different disciplinary communities, each with their own specific subcultures. However, this study is concerned with exploring ‘how some constraints of the global academic discourse community  become manifest in the discoursal practices of individual scholars  who belong to different speech communities,’ rather than seeking to provide an exhaustive description of the features of the global discourse   community.


Academic’s Competence and Meta-discourse (MD)

While it is suggested that academic’s competence involves familiarizing with the conventional discursive practices of a particular disciplinary community (Swales,1990),  what is  inherent  in this statement  is the need for the acquisition of a series of interpersonal skills along with the expertise in content and formal  features of different academic genres. At this point   the use of meta discourse i.e.; seems to be an important tool for the researcher for  both establishing and displaying his/her competence in the academic activity, because meta-discourse signifies the ‘aspects of text which explicitly refer to the organization of discourse, or the writer’s (speaker’s) stance towards its content or the audience’ (Swales, 1990; Crismore et al.,1989).  As stated by Hyland (1998, p.440),

Meta-discourse seeks to establish an appropriate discipline -defined balance between researcher’s authority as expert-knower and his/her humility as disciplinary servant.    … and this is principally accomplished through a judicious balance of tentativeness and assertion and experiences of a suitable relationship to one’s data, arguments and audience.

This view  has been supported  by various scholars who further  suggest  that investigating meta-discoursal practices of academics may reveal some assumptions underlying academic’s competence (e.g.Mauranen,1993; Adel, 2003). And, it is this view that I will follow in this study. To specify, in order to identify the linguistic strategies used towards creating academic identity proper, I will detect the meta discourse employed by the researchers while making contributions through questions and comments in academic conferences.


The data in this study comprise of  85 questions and comments posed by  the audience during the ‘contributions section’ of  conference   presentations, in 3 recent international academic conferences in the field of Linguistics.

To specify, data come from, The 9th, International Conference   On  Pragmatics, (Riva del Garda, Italy, 2005),  The 3rd International Conference on Organization in Discourse (Turku, Finland, 2006), and The 13th. International Conference on Turkish Linguistics (Uppsala, Sweden, 2006).

While doing the recordings  personally, I have also taken field notes regarding contextual information. Lastly,  as  these conferences  are well established organizations which host a large body of scholars, including  many renown figures  in the field from  various  countries,  I assume that the data represent the field adequately.


Two points that have been revealed in prior research have  guided my choice for the method of investigation in this study. The first one is the observation (Swales and Malchevski,1993, quoted in   Bamford, 2006, p.18), that oral genres have many characteristics of typical conversation, contrary to the earlier  findings which stressed the similarities of oral genres with the written forms; and  therefore, they are much more ‘multi-faceted’ and complex . The next point of departure in this study is   the vital interconnection between academic competence and the use of meta discourse (e.g.Mauranen,1993; Hyland,1998; Adel,2003).  Therefore, it is also  assumed in this study that investigating ‘meta-discoursal practices of academics’ may reveal some assumptions underlying academic’s competence which in turn, may be interpreted as linguistic strategies  researchers use to claim membership in the disciplinary community. To specify, I will detect the meta discourse employed by the researchers while issuing questions and comments  following conference presentations in order to identify the linguistic strategies used by speakers towards creating academic identity proper, as members of the Global academic discourse community. 

While doing  the micro analyses of the data, I will focus on the meta discourse by  which the contributor participants  enveloped their questions  and/ or comments  rather than focusing on the questions and comments, themselves. It is because, questions and comments, per se, can be regarded as acts of identity by their very function  which reflects the researcher’s  intention to make a contribution or make an inquiry on the ongoing topic; i.e, (more often than not) display the researcher’s expertise about the topic, almost regardless of their content.

While interpreting the data regarding identity, I have adapted the  social constructivist view of ‘identity’  which suggests that ‘identity’ is discursively created,  in that,  the method seems to  fit well in the analysis conversational data (see, Tannen,1986, 2007; Gordon, 2007). According to the  constructivist view, as Ochs (1993:296) states,  “at any given actual  moment, interactants are actively constructing their social identities in    all types of discourse, rather than passively living out some cultural prescription of social identity” and  that  construction of identity is a collaborative work achieved through negotiation  between the interactants. It is to say that a speaker’s claim for a certain social identity requires ratification of other interlocutors. A successful accomplishment of a certain social identity  also, requires the participants  of the interaction to share the cultural knowledge of the  context that makes a specific type of identity relevant at a specific instant of the conversation. In other words, social  identities are very much context specific, and in this respect,  a person has no single fixed social identity but multiple identities (Antaki,1998).

Some recent  studies namely  Ochs (1993),Tamen (2007), Gordon (2007) who have analyzed  naturally occurring everyday conversation such as the examples of family talk, workplace interaction, school meetings,  have observed that while speakers were talking about trivial matters of everyday such as asking questions, telling stories and responding others etc. they were constructing various identities such as ‘responsible parents’, ‘intimate friends’, ‘considerate bosses’ etc. They have identified such linguistic acts as social acts that  enable the speaker create  a certain social identity. For example, a mother’s questions insisting to learn about the details of the child’s day, would be identified as acts towards construction of a ‘concerned-mother’ identity in American society (Tannen,2007).

Through a  close analysis of the textual meta discourse in this study, I hope to identify to  what aspects of academic competence the researchers have  indexed  their verbal behaviors. Such verbal behaviors will be identified as linguistic acts which contribute to the researcher  to invoke an identity of a competent researcher,  following the descriptive method employed in  Tannen (2007).


The micro level analyses of the  contributions  events  under examination, have revealed that speakers have employed meta discourse extensively in their speech as illustrated in table Table 1. To specify,  out of 85 speakers, 78 have  wrapped their questions /comments within MD,  while we have come across only 7 cases where the contributors directly posed their questions or comments to the presenter without using any pre or post sequences of MD. This high frequency (88%) in MD preference, seems to reflect the degree of researchers’  concern (and awareness) in tailoring their utterances  to  the specific academic and social environment  while making the best of the opportunity to speak in the   limited time allowed for them. 

Table 1: Participants’ preference in using Meta Discourse



MD (-)


Total Number








As illustrated inTable 2, below,   the   total of 228 cases  of   MD detected in this study were grouped under two main categories following Hyland’s (1998) classification; namely, textual meta discourse and interpersonal meta discourse   which are distributed by 47 percent and 53 percent respectively. Textual MD,  involves various aspects of formal organization of the text, as opposed to  interpersonal meta discourse  which  is to do with  establishing relationship between the reader and the writer and  “anticipating subjective negotiability  of statements” (Hyland,1998,p.442)

However, in this study,  I have limited myself with the textual meta discourse  only, for  reasons of space, and not that interpersonal MD  seemed to be less significant as a tool for constructing academic identity. According to Hyland (p.442-3) textual meta discourse represents the presence of the audience in the text in terms of writer’s  or speaker’s ( added by the author) awareness of   processing constraints and the extent to which the writer wishes to restrict the reader’s selection of alternative interpretations” .

Table 2:  Distribution of   Meta Discourse Categories

Textual MD


Interpersonal MD











Textual Meta Discourse as researcher’s tool for identity construction

A further examination of the 107 cases of textual meta discourse encountered in the data, based on the 5 sub categories(3), has yielded however, an interesting result, in that   only one type of textual MD, namely,  Frame Markers,  have been used by the participants. Frame Markers    explicitly refer to discourse acts  related to the schematic text structure, as suggested by Hyland  and by others, (e.g.see, Mauranen, 2001)  although termed somewhat differently,  serve  two basic functions, i.e., they   signal shifts in the discourse boundaries (e.g. first, then, in sum)  or   announce  discourse goals preparing the audience   for the next step in arguments (e.g.  my aim here,  I will try to)

As illustrated in Table 3,  the Frame Markers,  detected in the datafall into three categories; in other words,  the participants in our study  ‘framed’ their questions and comments towards three functions at speech act level: 1) they  announced the type of contribution they were about to make; more specifically, they mentioned  whether they were about to ask a question(Q) or provide a comment(C) 2) they signaled the  link between their forthcomingQ/C   and those of other contributors who had initially taken the floor, in the same speech event. 3) they   provided information/clues about the content or  form of their upcoming Q/C.

Table 3: Functional Distribution of  Frame  Markers




Mentioning the type of the contribution (Q/C)



Referring to previous contributions Q/C



Mentioning the topic of the Q/C






In the remaining part of the paper I will discuss how the participants have made use of the above mentioned functions of  textual meta discourse to communicate their academic competence and towards claiming  identities as members of the global academic discourse community.  

Mentioning the  contribution- type

It has been observed that,  in 78 of the cases,  speakers  announced specifically  whether they were about to ask a question or provide a comment, through pre sequences such as  “My question is…”,  “ Just a very minor question…”, “ May I make a comment regarding…”, . Since this frequency  is  equal to the number of  people that have made use of MD (see, Table 1),   I have further investigated  whether this category has been used more than once by any speaker,  or  each case corresponds to a different person.  The conclusion was that, all the speakers who tended to use  MD  did employ this category.  Considering that it  is   performed by  88% of the whole body of participants   it can be marked as a generic  feature of this specific academic subgenre of the  contributions event.

By mentioning whether  the  contribution would be a question or  a comment, the researcher  claims that his/her    contribution  to the ongoing communicative event (the purpose of which is  to get  feedback  from the audience) is  a relevant  one.  By this s/he also  displays his/her    awareness of the generic  constraints of the academic activity. Shortly, by this way,  the speaker not only  explicitly  relates his/her    utterance to the current speech event, but also  claims his/her  self to be  relevant to that specific context.(4) In other words,   these verbal acts performed through the meta discourse may be regarded  as linguistic acts,  towards claiming membership of the given discourse  community,  or simply towards creating an ‘academic’identity.

Referring to previous contributions

In 22 of  the cases, contributors either signaled or  mentioned  explicitly the connection between their contributions and  the Q/C s previously issued in that occasion by others. I have come across this kind of framing in most of the sessions. However, there were a couple of instances  in which all (or the most) of the participants used this strategy following one another, as illustrated below. While providing examples from the data, names of the participants  were represented  through numbers preceded by letters, such as A12, B 04,   letters signifying different sessions, and numbers standing for the order that the participants  took the floor to make their contributions in that specific session.

Excerpt 1:

A 01 :  I wonder if…
A 02 :  My question is related to the previous one in a way…
A 03:  Not specifically to follow up the previous question but……
A 04: Did the male characters in the play…*…
A 05: Mine is not a question but a short comment … …      
*this speaker does not refer to others

The instances of MD above took place within a single speech event comprising of 5 contributions. Following the question of the first contributor (A01), the second speaker explicitly signals that her question is somehow related (regarding its content) to the previous one. The third and fifth participants also connect their utterances by mentioning the type of the contribution.

It seems that by referring to the previous Q /C s  produced by other contributors in the same event, speakers explicitly connect their utterances to those of other participants, thus both secure  the relevance of their contribution to the ongoing discussion and  also maintain the  overall coherence .

These acts are also significant as they  mark  the  speaker’s contribution  within the structure of the currently developing interaction,i.e, within  the structure  of the new text  that is being  jointly woven by the participants at another level. Maybe, we could call it a meta-text.

Shortly, it is through these acts that the speakers  exhibited their active  participation in this complex (and artful) task  of creating this meta text  as a part of their academic competence,  and thus claim both  their contributions and the persona to be relevant  in that specific academic activity.  In short, the participants use this particular MD, again, to claim   membership  of the academic discourse community, or  to claim an academic  identity proper.

Mentioning the topic of the question and comments

Finally,  the  third category of textual MD employed by the participants, includes conveying  clues regarding the content or manner of the  contributions to be made.  In our data,  7  cases   have been observed to be preceded by MD in this respect as seen in the examples below:

Excerpt 2

B 07:  “My question will be about the multi functionality of the utterances in”…

Excerpt 3

C 03:  “the table please, yes I have a question  about  your statistics.....”

Excerpt 4

C 06: “Sorry, I’m also  a bit puzzled by  your categorization system, my question is....”

By mentioning the topic of the succeeding utterance, speakers related their contributions  to the central subject matter of the ongoing conversation, i.e., thus  both communicated their knowledge of the content  and claimed  to have expertise in the field.

However, it was often difficult to isolate  the three different sub categories of MD as they frequently operated simultaneously, as in the  excerpts 2,3,4 above. While in  the first two, each embodies two different types of framing MD, excerpt 4 performs the three simultaneously (see table 3). Shortly put, the linguistic acts realized through meta discourse, seem to help the researcher in the process of constructing  an identity as a member of the academic discourse community, and hence  they may be identified as identity acts, recalling Kiesling’s (2006) words on the identity work:  “Identities  are means of contextualizing  speakers in a given situation ,i.e, making  their presence and conduct relevant.”



The  micro analysis of   textual meta discourse preceding the  questions and comments, obtained from three international conferences on Linguistics, has shown that the participants tried to establish identities evoking the membership features of the global academic discourse community   by  communicating their academic competence. In doing so, the participants heavily relied on textual MD, only  one   of which  appeared to be significant in this study.

More specifically, the participants made use of textual MD in  aligning [making relevant] their presence to the specific academic event by aligning themselves to the  audience; and also  to the content of the research just presented and   by maintaining the textual coherence of the ongoing  communicative event. Shortly, I suggest that the participants displayed their expertise of the content, and awareness of the norms of the academic event, thus claimed to be a part of the academic discourse community via employing meta discourse.

Although the findings in this study has revealed certain characteristic features of the contribution speech event, (or the sub genre) whether these features are peculiar to this sub genre in the field of  Linguistics , remains unclear, because, in order to be able to specify them,  we need to have a set of research findings related to other disciplinary communities that are comparable .

Finally, we can say that while speakers make comments on the academic presentations, ask questions, issue criticisms, challenge, or praise…etc.  in the course of  the complex multi- layer  interaction, simultaneously,  they claim identities  as  members of the global academic discourse community, through a series of linguistic acts. However, the choice of one single type of textual MD (frame markers) in this  study, by all the (77) participants coming from different parts of the world,  must be worth some attention, since it  seems to correspond to the degree to which the  discoursal practices of the researchers are constrained by the conventions of the discourse community in question.


References :



1 Mauranen   (2001) states that, this   may be so because of assigning less  prestige to its  epistemological status  or because of the  greater difficulty of accessing spoken data.
2 Among various definitions of the concept of speech community (e.g. Bloomfield,1933;Fishman,1971; Saville-Trioke,1982), the definition of  Hymes (1974:51) seems to present a more self-contained description of the term :’a community sharing the knowledge of rules for the conduct and interpretations of speech. Such sharing comprises knowledge of at least, one form of speech and knowledge of also its patterns of use"
3 1.Logical connectives,  2.Frame makers, 3. Endophoric markers, 4.Evidentials, 5.Code glosses
4 We can asuume that these utterances serve many other functions at interpersonal, cognitive etc. levels

2.2. Identity, Authenticity, Locality, Urbanity and Speech Community: A New Sociolinguistic Perspective | Identität, Authentizität, lokale- und städtische Veränderungen und Sprachgemeinschaften: Eine neue soziolinguistische Perspektive

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For quotation purposes:
Hatice Cubukcu: Beyond the borders of the speech communities: Construction of identity as a ‘member’ of the ‘global’ academic discourse community – In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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