Expressing epistemic stance in University lectures and TED talks: a contrastive corpu-based analysis


Abstract – This study explores the web-mediated genre of TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks, speech events whereby experts in their field disseminate knowledge from different domains (e.g. science, technology, design, global issues) addressing an audience of both co-present participants and web-users all over the world. The aim of this study is to investigate the way academics convey epistemic stance (Conrad, Biber 2000) and build up their image as experts on the TED stage. To this purpose, a contrastive analysis was carried out comparing two corpora of spoken discourse, i.e. a corpus of TED talks and a corpus of MICASE university lectures from different disciplines. Although in both genres the speaker is an academic, both the communicative purpose and audience expectations differ substantially in the two contexts under scrutiny. This comparison highlights some distinguishing traits of TED talks and provides a better insight into this genre. Adopting a corpus-based approach, attention is first paid to the most recurrent epistemic lexical verbs (ELVs) and to the use of first and second person pronouns in the two corpora. The qualitative analysis then focuses on similarities and differences in the discourse functions of the four most frequent ELVs (see, show, know, think) and of their clusters when they combine with first and second person pronouns in the two corpora. Previous studies in the field of English for Academic Purposes (Rounds 1987; Fortanet 2004; Walsh 2004; Artiga León 2006; Bamford 2009) are referred to as a starting point to investigate a novel, unexplored pragmatic space (i.e. that of TED) wherein academics accomplish purposes other than merely disseminating knowledge and training students, such as promoting their research and building up their image as experts.

Keywords: Languages for Special Purposes, popularization, web-mediated genres, evidentiality, epistemic stance


Abstract – I generi mediati dalla rete svolgono un ruolo fondamentale nei processi di ricontestualizzazione e riconcettualizzazione del sapere specialistico. Oltre a riadattare i contenuti per un pubblico di non addetti ai lavori, attraverso i nuovi mezzi di comunicazione gli esperti hanno la possibilità di rimodellare la propria immagine in base ai propri scopi comunicativi. Questo articolo si incentra sui TED talk, interventi a convegno (TED conferences) trasmessi in tutto il mondo attraverso la rete in cui esperti di diverse discipline conferiscono su vari temi (ad es. scienza, tecnologia, architettura, questioni globali). I TED talk condividono molte caratteristiche con una serie di generi ‘satellite’, come i documentari, le presentazioni accademiche, gli articoli scientifici e le lezioni universitarie. Queste ultime rappresentano probabilmente il genere che maggiormente si avvicina ai TED talk. Sia nelle lezioni universitarie sia nei TED talk, infatti, l’esperto si rivolge ad un pubblico di non esperti (o semi-esperti) avvalendosi di varie modalità semiotiche (ad es. parlato, supporti audio, supporti visivi) in quello che si rivela essere un evento comunicativo essenzialmente monologico. Prestando particolare attenzione a un processo di ricontestualizzazione del discorso accademico, questo contributo si propone di analizzare se e fino a che punto il discorso accademico subisce un cambiamento nel momento in cui il parlante si sposta dall’aula universitaria al palco di TED. Questo studio si basa su un’analisi contrastiva: un corpus di TED talk tenuti da accademici viene messo a confronto con un corpus di lezioni universitarie ricavato dal Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE). Per osservare differenze e analogie fra i due generi ci si avvale di un’analisi sia quantitativa sia qualitativa.


Parole chiave: Lingue per Scopi Speciali, Divulgazione, Generi multimediali, Evidentiality, Epistemic stance.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v11p105


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