A cross-disciplinary analysis of personal and impersonal features in English and Spanish scientific writing
This study is a corpus-based, cross-linguistic and cross-disciplinary analysis of impersonal and personal constructions in scientific texts. Passive structures (<i>to be</i> + past participle) and personal expressions (first-person pronouns)<i> </i>were extracted from a corpus of research articles taken from an English medical journal and a similar corpus of articles from an English mathematics journal. Corresponding Spanish passive constructions (<i>se </i>+ active verb form and <i>ser </i>+ past participle) and personal structures (verbs ending in <i>-mos</i>, first-person pronouns) were searched for in a corpus of medical research articles and a corpus of mathematics articles from Spanish-language journals. The frequency and patterns of use of both impersonal and personal features are compared across the four corpora to identify language- and discipline-specific preferences. The qualitative analysis of these structures sheds light on the textual functions they perform in different sections of the text. The results of the study demonstrate that in both English and Spanish, the choice between personal and impersonal constructions depends largely on the discipline and the author’s rhetorical aims. While the empirical, experiment-based field of Medicine is characterised by a prevalence of passive features that serve to reduce authorial presence in the description of scientific procedures, there is a marked preference for personal rather than impersonal forms in the more abstract, logic-based discipline of Mathematics, where authors are expected to guide their readers through an often convoluted chain of reasoning.