The discourse of biology lectures : aspects of its mode and text structure

  • Farida Baka

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The present thesis investigates mode related aspects in biology lecture discourse and attempts to identify the position of this variety along the spontaneous spoken versus planned written language continuum. Nine lectures (of 43,000 words) consisting of three sets of three lectures each, given by the three lecturers at Aston University, make up the corpus. The indeterminacy of the results obtained from the investigation of grammatical complexity as measured in subordination motivates the need to take the analysis beyond sentence level to the study of mode related aspects in the use of sentence-initial connectives, sub-topic shifting and paraphrase. It is found that biology lecture discourse combines features typical of speech and writing at sentence as well as discourse level: thus, subordination is more used than co-ordination, but one degree complexity sentence is favoured; some sentence initial connectives are only found in uses typical of spoken language but sub-topic shift signalling (generally introduced by a connective) typical of planned written language is a major feature of the lectures; syntactic and lexical revision and repetition, interrupted structures are found in the sub-topic shift signalling utterance and paraphrase, but the text is also amenable to analysis into sentence like units. On the other hand, it is also found that: (1) while there are some differences in the use of a given feature, inter-speaker variation is on the whole not significant; (2) mode related aspects are often motivated by the didactic function of the variety; and (3) the structuring of the text follows a sequencing whose boundaries are marked by sub-topic shifting and the summary paraphrase. This study enables us to draw four theoretical conclusions: (1) mode related aspects cannot be approached as a simple dichotomy since a combination of aspects of both speech and writing are found in a given feature. It is necessary to go to the level of textual features to identify mode related aspects; (2) homogeneity is dominant in this sample of lectures which suggests that there is a high level of standardization in this variety; (3) the didactic function of the variety is manifested in some mode related aspects; (4) the features studied play a role in the structuring of the text.
Date of Award1989
Original languageEnglish


  • biology lectures
  • mode
  • text structure

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