Speaking: Functions Introduction Introduction

Speaking in Academic Contexts

Rhetorical functions in academic speaking

Students are asked to speak about many different kinds of texts. Depending on your subject, these could be academic presentations, seminars, tutorials, groupwork,  reports, reviews, reflections, research proposals, and so on and are normally referred to as genres (See: Speaking Genres: Introduction). These different genres, though, can be constructed from a small range of different text types.

If, for example, you are asked to give an oral  presentation to answer the following question:

Discuss possible solutions to the problem of international credit control.

You could answer it in the following way:

  1. Define credit control, say what it is and give an example;
  2. Explain why international credit control is a problem in business today, support your explanation by evidence from your reading;
  3. Describe some possible solutions to the problem of credit control in an international context, again support your suggestions with evidence from your reading;
  4. Describe the advantages and disadvantages of each of the possible solutions;
  5. Decide which solution you would prefer and give reasons.

So in order to answer the question you need to be able to do the following:

  • Define
  • Give an example
  • Explain why
  • Support your explanation with evidence
  • Describe a solution
  • Describe advantages and disadvantages
  • Choose
  • Explain why

Bruce (2008) calls these various texts cognitive genres, but I have called them Rhetorical Functions.

Examples of texts and language.

A good source of language is Leech & Svartvik (1975). Typical rhetorical functions used in academic speaking are:

  1. Describing objects, location, structure and direction Speaking: Functions 1: Describing
  2. Reporting and narrating – Speaking: Functions 2: Reporting
  3. Defining – Speaking: Functions 3: Defining
  4. Giving instructions – Speaking: Functions 4: Instructions
  5. Describing processes, developments and operations – Speaking: Functions 5: Process
  6. Classifying / categorising – Speaking: Functions 6: Classify
  7. Giving examples – Speaking: Functions 7: Examples
  8. Including tables and charts – Speaking: Functions 8: Tables & Charts
  9. Comparing and contrasting: similarities and differences – Speaking: Functions 9: Comparison & Contrast
  10. Generalising – Speaking: Functions 10: Generalising
  11. Expressing degrees of certainty – Speaking: Functions 11: Degrees of Certainty
  12. Expressing reasons and explanations / cause and effect – Speaking: Functions 12: Reasons & Explanations
  13. Arguing and discussing – Speaking: Functions 13: Arguing & Discussing
  14. Giving introductions – Speaking: Functions 14: Introductions
  15. Drawing conclusions – Speaking: Functions 15: Conclusions
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