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Business English, Professional English, Legal English, Medical English, Academic English etc.
Online peer-reviewed Journal for Teachers

English for Specific Purposes World (ESP World)

English for Specific Purposes World

ISSN 1682-3257

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Wincharles Coker

Department of Communication Studies

University of Cape Coast

Cape Coast, Ghana

+233 245 170 141


This paper presents a critique of Pedro Martin-Martin’s (2008) highly acknowledged research paper on the mitigation of scientific claims in research papers. To do this end, I first give a vignette of the strengths of his work, which include clarity of thought, depth of subject matter and explicitness of results. On the other hand, the study could have been affected by both micro and macro inexactitudes. Grammatical infelicities as concord, article omission and unclear referents can hardly go unnoticed. At the macro level, the paper is characterised by rhetorical difficulties, methodological biases and weak presentation of evidence/illustrations. The overarching goal of the review is to expose the strengths and weaknesses of the article.

In his work Martin-Martin (2008) compared the mitigation of scientifc claims in research articles (RAs) written in English and Spanish. The thrust of the study was to explore how hedging was instantiated by English and Spanish researchers in respect of linguistic devices and frequency of occurrence in the discourse community of Clinical and Health Psychology. Using a random sampling method, Martin-Martin (2008) sampled a total of forty (40) RAs written in English and Spanish (i.e 20 English, 20 Spanish) from what he terms “two of the most prestigious international journals” (p.140): Health Psychology and British Journal of Clinical Psychology and Anales de Psicologia y la Revista de Psicologia General y Aplicada for English and Spanish texts respectively.

            The study yielded three major findings. First, the research showed that although both English and Spanish authors were mindful of the efficacy of mitigation in their research papers, the phenomenon was more observed by the former than by the latter. In spite of the difficulties, the author faces is an attempt to explicate this result, he, none the less, asserts that differing rhetorical units in the RA have different distributions of hedges. For example, according to Martin-Martin (2008), it is in the Introduction and Conclusion/Discussion units that the highest levels of claims are made, and therefore receive the most commensurate hedging devices.

The author further advances that the most frequently used strategy in both groups of texts is the strategy of depersonilisation, which he explains as those cases in which the writers diminish their presence in the texts to relieve themselves of responsibility for the truth of the propositions expressed by recourse to their choices of appropriate linguistic resources. Examples are impersonal active and passive constructions. On the other hand, English and Spanish RAs, Martin-Martin (2008) avers, differ principally on account of their use of the indetermination strategy. He explains that English-speaking writers resorted more frequently to making their claims more tentiative and indeterminate, thereby mitigating the strengths of their assertions in a bid to achieve greater acceptance from the members of the research community. Among the Spanish writers, the chief motivation was to maintain interpersonal relationship between writer and reader. Such a need was informed by a protective strategy not to sound too offensive to the other scholars.

One other finding of the study indicates that rhetorical variation in research papers is tied to the socio-pragmatic context in which the texts are produced. Martin-Martin (2008) explains this assertion to mean that it is only through an ethnographic evaluation of writers’ motivations for the use of certain rhetorical strategies that one could arrive at a satisfactory explanation for where the boundaries between cultural background and socio-pragmatic aspects lie. On this account, he in part dismisses the form-function model often associated with hedges. In the following section, I now turn attention to the strengths and weaknesses in the work.

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