The discourse of academic seminars : structures and strategies of interaction
Seminar discussion is an important mode of instruction in Higher Education. However, the discourse of discussion in academic seminars has been little investigated. Until now, there has existed only a limited amount of empirically based language description which could be used to inform those working in the field of English for Academic Purposes. The present study investigates discussion in seminars on a MBA programme and offers frameworks to account for central aspects of the verbal interaction: exchange patterns; acts and moves initiating exchanges and strategies. Three subgenres of seminar discussion are examined: the discussion following the presentation by an outside speaker; the discussion following the presentation by students and non-presentation tutorial discussion. Exchanges are found to be basically two-part structures of initiation and response. Some extended patterns are brought to light and it is argued that the major impetus prolonging exchanges in discussion is a third-part move registering dissatisfaction with the initial responses given. Exchanges are observed to be driven by moves functioning as elicitations although acts at initiation both ask for information and ideas and propose them. Initiation may be complex and involves a mixture of the acts. Textual signalling and attitudinal strategies used in seminars are explicated. The latter are accounted for in terms of the face concerns of the speakers. The features are examined across the three subgenres. Some quantitative variations were observed. These variations are discussed in the light of situational variables such as levels of participant status and knowledge. Theoretical implications are drawn and applications for syllabus and methodology in English for Academic Purposes are suggested.