Volume 11, Issue 4 (2020)                   LRR 2020, 11(4): 477-508 | Back to browse issues page

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Gholi Famian A R. Pragmatics of Questions in Persian Academic Texts. LRR 2020; 11 (4) :477-508
URL: http://lrr.modares.ac.ir/article-14-21372-en.html
Associate Professor, Department of General Linguistics and Foreign Languages, Payame Noor University, Iran , famianali@pnu.ac.ir
Abstract:   (2234 Views)
Text Box: Received: 26/06/2018 Accepted: 29/01/2019

* Corresponding Author's 
E-mail: famianali@pnu.ac.ir

Knowledge is based on questions, and in every scientific text, a writer is supposed to answer one or some definite question(s). Linguistically speaking, interrogative structure is one of the most important grammatical structures in all languages, and although their grammatical, phonological as well as semantic features are examined in detail, their pragmatic functions have been mainly neglected. For the first time, Hyland (2002) investigated interrogative structure with a pragmatic approach and introduced it as an engagement device to attract readers. In fact, interrogatives along with imperatives, reader pronouns, shared knowledge and appositives constitute five engagement devices in writer-reader interaction. In this model, seven pragmatic functions are outlined for interrogatives: (1) Questions as titles, (2) frame purpose, (3) text organization, (4) establish niche, (5) express evaluation, (6) support claim, and (7) suggest research. The present study examines the pragmatic functions of interrogative in Persian language with the emphasis on academic texts. Three sub-genres, i.e. textbooks, research articles and research reports are taken into account. Due to the different mechanisms practiced in different sciences, the so-called hard-soft divide which distinguishes natural sciences versus humanities is also revisited. The study addresses the following four questions:
  1. Are there differences in frequency and pragmatic function of interrogatives among textbooks, research articles and research reports?
  2. Are there differences in frequency and pragmatic function of interrogatives between humanities and sciences?
  3. Are there differences in frequency and pragmatic function of interrogatives among different fields ?
  4. Is there any difference between Persian and English language to handle the pragmatic functions of interrogatives ?
This research follows a descriptive-analytical procedure. The statistical population includes undergraduate level scientific textbooks, research articles as well as research reports. Needless to say, all of these sub-genres are written by university professors but each sub-genre addresses especial audience. The sample is collected from the afore-mentioned texts in six humanities fields (Persian literature, linguistics, law, psychology, social sciences, and accounting), and six sciences (mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, biology and computer science).
In each academic field, 6 textbooks, 30 research articles and 4 research reports are selected. Considering 12 fields the corpus of study includes 72 textbooks, 360articles and 48 research reports. The books are original Persian manuscripts (not translated books), articles are selected from two or three peer-referred academic journal, and reports are also written by faculty members in Payam-e Noor University in East Azerbaijan. Since the frequency of interrogatives is counted in 10000 words scale, first the number of words in each text is counted. The sub-genre of textbooks includes 2948020 word (about 3 millions), and articles and research reports have 2112669 (about 2 millions) and 696205 (about 700,000) words respectively. As, such, the whole corpus includes 5756894 (about 5 million and 700,000) words. 
With an eye to the seven pragmatic functions outlined by Hyland (2002), it should be mentioned that in only two texts (two research articles) interrogative structure is employed as the text title. The model’s second function, i.e. frame purpose is the most frequent pattern, as from the 1234 detected interrogatives in the whole corpus, 835 ones (about 70 percent) imply this pragmatic function. Therefore, it can be claimed that in these three genres, writers prefer to present questions in the beginning of their texts and then attempt to provide answers to them. The frequency in the text organization (81) and establish niche (63) is not significant, and the low number of cases in fifth function, i.e. express evaluation shows that the involved writers did not take any critical positions. The frequency of sixth and seventh functions are higher. In sum, for 10000 words of the corpus 2.1 interrogative structure is employed by the writers. 
With respect to the science-humanities divide, it is revealed that the frequency of interrogatives in the humanities (3.1 cases in 10000 words) is much higher than that of sciences (0.9 cases in 10000). 
In only two fields, i.e. linguistics and psychology all seven discourse functions are used, and in most disciplines- especially in sciences- most discourse functions have not been employed by the authors. One noticeable exception to this general pattern is physics, as using interrogatives in this field is apparently more popular than in law and accounting.
To answer the first question of the study, it should be maintained that writers of the three genres under study behave differently as the number of interrogatives in the textbooks is higher than that of research articles and research reports. Articles and reports have quite the same number of interrogatives. To explain the difference, it is maintained that textbooks are mainly prepared for undergraduate students. Student are usually fresh in the subject, and therefore writers are supposed to write explicitly. One method to reach explicitness is to design some questions and then try to answer them. In contrast, articles and research reports are substantially written for peers. The writers, in these cases, believe that the potential readers are academic agents and therefore using engagement devices like interrogatives would be unnecessary. 
With respect to the second research question, it is shown that humanities and sciences behave quite differently as far as using interrogatives is concerned. This finding supports the claims made by Snow (1959,1998) and Tauber (2009) who have recognized substantial differences between humanities and sciences, leading to the long-standing debate as humanities-science divide. 
Regarding the third question, it should be acknowledged that among the very disciplines in both humanities and sciences, writers do not have similar tendency towards using interrogatives. Linguistics and literature-with a little difference- occupy the first and second positions followed by psychology. As stated earlier, in the corpus of sciences, the frequency of interrogatives is lower, although the field of physics is an exception.
To compare the findings of the present study with those of Hyland (2002), it is shown that the frequency reported by Hyland is much higher (7.2 cases in 10000 words) than that of Persian corpus (2.1 cases in 10000 words). It can be concluded that writers in Hong Kong university are eager to use interrogatives structure to attract their readers. To explain the difference, we have to address the subject of writing in two different educational contexts. The students and researchers in Hong Kong are familiar with the basics of the writing in general and academic writing in particular, while their counterparts in Iran lack such competence. To interpret this general tendency it is maintained that in humanities, especially in fields such as linguistics and literature, writers are more familiar with linguistic structures. They are technically more language-aware and therefore act more competently. In contrast, scientists are more rigid in their language, and actually they are taught and recommended to use inflexible, non-humanistic language. Needless to say, an advanced, rigid tone in the text does not require any engagement with the reader.
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Article Type: مقالات علمی پژوهشی | Subject: Discourse Analysis
Published: 2020/10/1

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