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Key concepts in ELT

Genre of communicating that are favoured in school


'Genre' is easier to exemplify than to define. The settings (Martin 1989). Much of the debate about
word traditionally serves to indicate different whether (and if so, how) to teach spoken and
kinds of literary and artistic works. Language written genres explicitly to learners has turned on
educators and linguists have extended 'genre' to the issue of whether genre knowledge is
identify classes of language use and liberating, as it gives people more choices, or
communication in all areas of life. Widely constricting, as it leads people to talk, write and
discussed genres include service encounters, act in conventionally approved ways.
business letters, academic articles, lessons,
editorials, sports commentaries, and many more. Genres are relevant in teaching at any level
In school settings, broad narrative, descriptive, because learners also have intuitions and

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expository, and argumentative genres are often experiences about how some texts and events
identified in teaching and examinations. resemble or differ from others. In schools,
learners' experiences and uses of language often
Genre studies raise many questions and some differ across subjects. Exploring similarities and
controversies (Hyon 1996). One issue is how differences between communicative events is a
'genre' relates to 'register' (see Key concepts in concern that genre analysis shares with language
ELT Journal Volume 48/3). Both concepts seek to teaching and learning.
capture aspects of variation in language use.
'Genre' is particularly linked to concerns with References
communicative and social purposes among user Berkenkotter, C. and T.N. Huckin 1995. Genre
groups forming 'discourse communities' (Swales knowledge and disciplinary communication:
1990). Attention to 'genre' arguably emerges from Cognition/Culture/Power. Hillsdale, NJ: Law-
Hymes's work on 'speech events' ('activities . . . rence Erlbaum. Bhatia, V.K. 1993. Analysing
that are directly governed by rules or norms for genre: Language use in professional settings. __
the use of speech' (Hymes 1972: 56). 'Register', London & NY: Longman.
which has long been associated with Halliday's Halliday, M.A.K., Mclntosh, A. and P. Strevens
apparatus for text description, is typically defined 1964. The linguistic sciences and language
by formal properties of grammar and lexis (e.g. teaching. London: Longman.
Halliday et al, 1964). While some scholars work Hymes, D. 1972. 'Models of the interaction of
mainly with one or the other term, many treat the language and social life' in J.J. Gumperz, and D.
concepts as complementary. Hymes (Eds.), Directions in sociolinguistics: The
ethnography of communication (35-71), NY:
How genres are best defined and operationally Holt, Rinehardt & Winston.
identified, for descriptive and teaching purposes,
remains a major area of enquiry. An influential Hyon, S. 1996. Genre in three traditions: Implica-
view is that many genres have typical linguistic tions for ESL. TESOL Quarterly, 30/4: 693-722.
realizations that can usefully be taught, but that Martin, J.R. 1989. Factual writing: Exploring and
genres should be defined in terms of recognized challenging social reality. Oxford: Oxford Uni-
social purposes. Letters of apology, for instance, versity Press.
must convey apology, but need not contain the Miller, C.R. (1984). Genre as social action.
expression 'We are very sorry . . .' Miller (1984) Quarterly Journal of Speech, 70: 151-167.
represents genres as types of rhetorical action in Swales, J.M. 1990. Genre analysis: English in
recurrent situations. Swales (1990) takes a genre as academic and research settings. Cambridge:
'a class of communicative event, the members of Cambridge University Press.
which share some set of communicative purposes'. The author
While familiarity with typical generic realisations Desmond Allison is a senior lecturer at the National
is important, conventions are not fixed, and genres
change over time and circumstances. Knowing University of Singapore. He teaches courses in
and using relevant genres is a characteristic of research in language studies, language testing and
professional and other communities (Berkenkotter programme evaluation, and genre knowledge and
& Huckin 1995; Bhatia 1993). specialized communication. His main research areas
in English for academic and educational purposes
Ignorance of genres can exclude people from include comprehension studies, second language
effective social participation. Some children face writing, and language programme evaluation.
difficulties because they are unfamiliar with ways E-mail:<elldma@nus.edu.sg>
144 ELT Journal Volume 53/2 April 1999 © Oxford University Press 1999