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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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Agenzia Nazionale di Valutazione del Sistema Universitario e della Ricerca: Classe A

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Volume 2019, Issue 227


Expounding knowledge through explanations: Generic types and rhetorical-relational patterns

Christian M. I. M. Matthiessen / Jack Pun
Published Online: 2019-02-13 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2016-0045


In this paper, we focus on contexts where the primary activity is to expound knowledge about general classes of phenomena, either by categorizing and characterizing them or by explaining them based on some theory, ranging from a commonsense folk theory to an uncommonsense scientific theory. Texts produced in such contexts include science lectures, research articles, and entries in encyclopedias. We focus on explanations, considering them across strata in terms of context, semantics, and lexicogrammar, and summarizing contributions from different research strands. Against this background, we report on a study of the registers used in secondary school chemistry textbooks in Hong Kong. We begin by summarizing a framework for classifying the contexts in which texts operate – a framework designed to allow us to differentiate different kinds of text according to the contexts they operate in. Then, we focus on one type of context – that of expounding knowledge about general classes of phenomena. Next, we identify different strategies of expounding knowledge, contrasting explanations and categorizations, and then discuss explanations in more detail. Finally, we move to the question of how these contextual types are realized semantically as texts organized as rhetorical complexes, drawing on secondary school textbooks in chemistry in particular.

Keywords: systemic functional linguistics; discourse analysis; explanation; science education; educational genre; rhetorical relationship


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About the article

Published Online: 2019-02-13

Published in Print: 2019-03-05

Citation Information: Semiotica, Volume 2019, Issue 227, Pages 31–76, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/sem-2016-0045.

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