Sunday, August 5, 2012

What is Genre?

Every so often it happens that various people working independently converge on a single idea. This happened about 20 years ago when 'Genre' became a key term in applied linguistics. To celebrate this event,  Carleton University in Canada organised Genre 2012: Rethinking Genre 20 Years Later to "continue the tradition and scholarly conversation that originated with the first international colloquium on Genre Studies, “Rethinking Genre,” held at Carleton University in 1992." The programme shows a wide range of high quality papers from across the globe, and an edited collection is anticipated.

Thankfully the organisers had the foresight to video the plenary speakers, including Jim Martin (evidently a regular visitor to Carleton). What becomes apparent quite quickly while watching these videos is that everyone has very diverse views on what genre means in applied linguistics. To Swales, Hyland and Bhatia it is an approach to English for Specific Purposes, for Martin it is an abstraction of text structure, while for Bazerman it is a new way to present rhetoric in writing courses. While the first two may share some common theoretical background, the third approach is very distinct, rooted as it is not in linguistics but language studies.

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