The Incredible “However” (2)

To continue the discussion of the first part of this topic, let me first recap what it means by ‘counterexpectancy’. ‘Counterexpectancy’ is a term covering the meaning of ‘what goes against the expected’. Such counter-expectant meaning is realised in language through signals equivalent to but, however and so on.

Keeping this in mind, we move on to explore the question I posed in the previous post:

  1. Whose expectations do we counter?
  2. How so incredible is “however” in academic writing?

As we write under the academic context, we expect someone to read our works, for example, our teachers who grade our assignments, or our colleagues and other readers who will read our studies on academic journals. So the language we choose in our writing somehow reflects (or “construe”) the kind of ideal readers we have in mind. These ideal readers often share the similar views on our chosen topics, and this is why we ‘expect’ them to think more or less the same way as we do. Oftentimes the knowledge and perspectives we share can contradict our real experience of the world. In other words, what is taken for granted does not fit in the reality, and ‘counterexpectancy’ arises.

I want to provide a quick example from the data I collected for my doctorate research. The assignment topic is related to TOEFL speaking exam:

As the TOEFL iBT program aims, the Speaking section includes a variety of academic reading texts and listening input … (Chapelle, et al., 2008, p.74). This seems that the content is relevant to what students may encounter in colleges and universities (Chapelle, et al., 2008, p.120; ETS, 2011). However, the Speaking concentrates less on speaking skills than on listening and content knowledge. Most often, listening skill is the key underlying language ability in the TOEFL iBT Speaking. Take an authentic test from the official guide of ETS (2009) as an example… (Student from MA English Language Teaching programme)

The writer first provides a ‘Situation’ about what this exam is about:

[Situation] As the TOEFL iBT program aims, the Speaking section includes a variety of academic reading texts and listening input … (Chapelle, et al., 2008, p.74).

Her comment on the exam follows, firstly giving a somewhat ‘reluctant’ agreement on the relevance of the exam to the real life situations, with the expressions such as seem and may:

[‘Positive’ Evaluation] This seems that the content is relevant to what students may encounter in colleges and universities (Chapelle, et al., 2008, p.120; ETS, 2011).

Following the seemingly positive evaluation is a twist, turning out the exam is less than ideal, using the counterexpectancy signal however:

[Negative Evaluation] However, the Speaking concentrates less on speaking skills than on listening and content knowledge.

She then proceeds to give reasons for her evaluation as ‘Basis’, firstly arguing that listening skill has its importance in speaking, and then providing a real-life example:

[Basis] Most often, listening skill is the key underlying language ability in the TOEFL iBT Speaking. Take an authentic test from the official guide of ETS (2009) as an example…

The above example has demonstrated what a typical paragraph looks like in a literature review assignment. The writer attempts to first review related literature on a theme, and then critically evaluate it with examples to support her point. The ‘counterexpectancy’ signal however functions to shift the evaluation (often) from a positive to a negative overtone. The evaluative shift allows the writer to clear position himself/herself with respect to the topic, so that s/he can choose what experience or readings to affiliate with. This kind of affiliation determines her standpoint within the field being discussed in the text. The counterexpectancy signal also helps making the evaluation around the signal explicit, so that the argument claims can be clearer structurally. The clear argumentation structured carefully in this way for the rest of the assignment can result in a better grade, as teachers do favour this type of review assignment with ‘more of the students’ voice’.

To sum up with answering the two questions above:

  1. Through counterexpectancy we target to align readers with our intended position in the text by dis-aligning them from the original, ‘expected’ perspectives from the literature we review;
  2. ‘Counterexpectancy’ performs incredible functions that it:
    1. signals the shift of evaluation;
    2. marks the writer’s position being affiliated with an alternative point of view;
    3. makes the ‘situation-evaluation-basis’ argument structure clear

Some further readings:

Hood, S. (2010). Appraising Research: Evaluation in Academic Writing. Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. (Especially Section 6.3.4 in Chapter 6 regarding ‘counter-expectancy’)

Hunston, S., & Thompson, G. (2000). Evaluation in Text: Authorial Stance and the Construction of Discourse. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. (Especially p.28 on ‘situation-evaluation-basis’)

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