restricted access 8 - Linguistic Features and Writer’s Stance in Investigation Reports
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8 Linguistic Features and Writer’s Stance in Investigation Reports Priscilla Leung This chapter aims to explore the issues of writing a successful text. To qualify for the claim, writers of professional discourses have to achieve their communicative purposes, which function to describe, inform, instruct or persuade. Are writers unself-conscious? Is there any interrelationship between the writers’ choice of lexis and grammar and their stance expressed in the texts? How is the stance expressed? Are readers of different text-types more attracted to certain lexis and grammar? If the stance is related to specific linguistic features, can a writer tune some of the texts to be better received than the others? As we move towards a knowledge-based era, we are more concerned about our communities. We expect to know more about public administration and actively express our opinions. In Hong Kong, this phenomenon is well reflected in the increasing demand for independent investigation of major incidents. In the past few years, the Hong Kong government has published a number of reports written by independent investigation commissions. Written discourses in the form of investigation reports have played an increasingly important role in recent years in addressing issues that cause significant social impact. These reports provide the public with information such as facts, lessons learnt and recommendations. The report that first caught the public’s attention was the one in 2000 regarding the enquiry arising from the article ‘Pressure to stop opinion polls not welcome’, under the name of Dr Chung Ting-yiu. This marked a shift in the public’s expectation of the way government or public bodies handle controversial issues. On 1 July 2002, the accountability system for Principal Officials was introduced in Hong Kong. Since then the public have been more critical of the government’s performance. This trend was again exemplified on 15 February 2007 by the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR Government, Mr Donald Tsang, who appointed a 132 Priscilla Leung Commission of Inquiry to look into recent allegations on improper interference by government officials with academic freedom and autonomy of the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIE). On the basis of the findings, the Commission will recommend how legitimate government advice may be given to the HKIE in future. The most profound and controversial investigation report to date is the one published by the Hong Kong SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) Expert Committee in October 2003. In the spring of 2003, SARS caught the world by surprise. Epidemics respect neither geographical nor national boundaries. As we live in a more interconnected world, the outbreak of SARS has had a universal effect. The lack of knowledge, experience and co-operation among local and international communities caused great tragedies. SARS lasted for 144 days and spread to 29 countries, leading to 8,098 cases of infection and 774 deaths. As the epidemic subsided, responsible governments admitted that something had to be done. Both Hong Kong and Canada set up expert panels in May 2003 to look into past actions and recommend a course of action for the future. Each published a report on the event in October 2003. A review of the literature shows that investigation reports have not been studied by researchers. Matthiessen (1993), for instance, examined the language of a range of text-types but did not include that of investigation reporting. The list of text categories for the Freiburg-Lancaster-Oslo-Bergen (FLOB) Corpus, a one-million-word structured set of sample written British English texts for linguistic analysis, for instance, does not include text category for investigation reports. This study intends to identify the relationships between the linguistic features and the writer’s stance in investigation reports, with a view to improving the receptiveness of the reports to the readers. Stance and linguistic features Stancetaking (Englebretson 2003) is one of the most fundamental and multifaceted human activities accomplished through language. Humans evaluate the world around them; express emotions, beliefs, and desires; claim or deny authority; and align or disalign with others in social interaction. These are primary activities of speakers in everyday interaction, and therefore a functional approach to language would expect stancetaking to likewise motivate and shape language structure. Biber and Finegan (1988) describe stance as the lexical and grammatical expression of attitudes, feelings, judgements or commitments concerning the propositional content of a message. At the 15th Sociolinguistics Symposium held in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK, in April 2004, the title of one of the panel discussions was ‘Stance in...