lnfomaationProcessing& Management,Vol.31, No. 5, pp. 769-776, 1995 Copyright© 1995ElsevierScienceLtd Printedin GreatBritain.All rightsreserved 0306-4573/95 $9.50+ 0.00 0306-4573(95)00024-0

INES-A. BUSCH-LAUER Universit~itLeipzig, Fachsprachenzentrum,Augustusplatz9, HH 9. Etg., D-04109 Leipzig, Germany Abstract--Studies on contrastive genre analysis have become a current issue in research on languages for specific purposes (LSP) and are intended to economize specialist communication. The present article compares formal schemata and linguistic devices of German abstracts and their English equivalents, written by German medical scholars to English native speaker (NS) abstracts. The source material is a corpus of 20 abstracts taken from German medical journals representing different degrees of specialism/professionalism. The method of linguistic analysis includes (1) the overall length of articles/abstracts, (2) the representation/arrangement of "moves", (3) the linguistic means (complexity of sentences, finite verb forms, active and passive voice, tenses, linking words, and lexical hedging), Results show no correlation between the length of articles and the length of abstracts. In contrast to NS author abstracts, the move "Background information" predominated in the structure of the studied German non-native speaker (GNNS) abstracts, whereas "Purpose of study" and "Conclusions" were not clearly stated. In linguistic terms, the German abstracts frequently contained lexical hedges, complex and enumerating sentence structures, passive voice and past tense as well as linkers of adversative, concessive and consecutive character. The GNNS English equivalent abstracts were author translations and contained structural and linguistic inadequacies which may hamper the general readability for the scientific community. Therefore abstracting should be systematically incorporated into language courses for the medical profession and for technical translators. INTRODUCTION Today there is mounting evidence that the success of technical communication largely depends on both linguistic competence and knowledge of the appropriate structure of genres and the forms of their linguistic representation. This is particularly true when non-native speakers (NNS) of English want to publish their research results in English. From practical experience we know that although there are standards and guidelines for technical manuscripts, N N S ' articles and abstracts often lack linguistic appropriacy and awareness of the audience, which may hamper the reception of research results by the English-speaking community. Therefore studies on text types and contrastive genre analysis have become current issues in research on languages for specific purposes (LSP) and are intended to economize specialist communication as well as information retrieval. Abstracts are undoubtedly one of the most widely used research process genres as has been pointed out by Gl~iser (1990), Salager-Meyer (1990, 1992), Staheli (1986), Swales (1990), and others. This article reports on some preliminary results focusing on the formal structure, communicative function and linguistic devices of abstracts in German medical journals and their English equivalents. To mark relevant differences in the discourse of non-native speakers (NNS) and native speakers (NS) o f English the findings are analysed with regard to the research done by Salager-Meyer (1990, 1992) on NS medical abstracts. BACKGROUND Considering the relatively late orientation of linguistics towards the concept of text in the late 1970s and the absence of a generally agreed practical approach to texts as structured 769


Ines-A. Busch-Lauer

communicative units, it is not surprising that intralingual studies on genres have only been recently pursued. Outstanding reviews of the state-of-the-art have been given by Gl~iser (1990) and Swales (1990). Contrastive rhetoric originating from the work of Kaplan (1966), Galtung (1983) and Connor and Kaplan (1986), and discourse level analyses (e.g. Van Dijk, 1980; de Beaugrande & Dressier, 1981) have stimulated studies on contrastive rhetoric in LSP. Clyne (1987, 1991) investigated articles in sociology and linguistics published by Germans and Anglo-Americans according to the criteria: (1) linearity/digressiveness; (2) symmetry/asymmetry; (3) hierarchy; (4) continuity; (5) advance organizers; (6) definition; (7) sentence types; (8) data integration; and (9) hedges. As he hypothetically pointed out, there seems to be a marked difference in the academic rhetoric of Germans and Anglo-Americans, which is probably due to a different textual organization and to divergent intellectual styles. Therefore, the main concern of contrastive LSP research is whether the structure and organization of scientific texts in the same subject area but from different languages, follow principles which are either languageindependent or specific for both the language and the culture (professional and/or national culture) of the particular discourse community. Interesting evidence for the latter notion has been recently revealed for titles and abstracts of science reports (Gnutzmann, 1988, 1991), for introductions of articles in linguistics (Gnutzmann & Lange, 1990), for conclusions/ summaries of articles in the subject areas economics and medical science (Mauranen, 1993). However, comprehensive studies on larger corpora of large-scale texts are still missing. Furthermore, it is necessary to extend written discourse analysis from studying the "product" text as the result of a communicative act, seen by the LSP researcher, to the examination of cognitive processes during the writing and reading of these texts by specialists. Only then a comparison between L1 (source language) and L2 (target language) will contribute to an increasing linguistic and audience awareness of specialists.

PURPOSE OF THE STUDY The present article focuses on abstracts and abstracting in the field of medicine. It originates from my personal teaching experience in ESP (English for Specific Purposes) courses for medical students. This research work is intended to be a subordinate objective within a research project on cultural and cross-linguistic similarities/differences in written academic discourse (both English and German) in the fields of medicine and linguistics. The purpose of this project is two-fold. The linguistic interest lies in the application of textlinguistic, contrastive and cognitive methodology to the description of special languages and LSP texts from an intra- and interlingual approach. In order to find out contrasts in the discoursal organization of special texts and their linguistic manifestation, I have embarked on analysing various research process genres, e.g. articles, editorials, reviews, abstracts, letters to the editor, according to a complex top-down approach. This approach is based on (1) LSP research, (2) textlinguistics, (3) contrastive rhetoric/cross-cultural studies and (4) research into cognitive writing processes. The research will follow a three-step-comparison of texts: (1) German vs English texts written by Germans; (2) German vs English texts written each by native speakers; (3) English texts by NS vs English texts by NNS. The didactic interest of my research is a pragmatic one--to utilize the results for ESP course tailoring and teaching purposes. Writing in L2 and summarizing for specific purposes (thesis, author abstracts) have not yet been sufficiently the subject of research and have so far not been an integrative part of ESP course programmes, at least in our department.

Abstracts and abstracting in L2

According to the International Standard Organization (ISO) 214-1976 (E) the term abstract "signifies an abbreviated, accurate representation of the contents of a document, without added interpretation or criticism". It is characterized by brevity, conciseness and informativity. Despite

Abstracts in Germanmedicaljournals


of the numerous guidelines for technical writers in handbooks and style manuals, accurate literature search and scientific work are often hampered by limitations of indexing and lack of systematic structure in abstracts as well as unspecific wording (Ad Hoc Working Group, 1987; Fluck, 1988; Tibbo, 1992). In contrast to many Anglo-American specialist journals, the instructions for authors in German medical journals often refer the authors only to the length of abstracts but not to structure and style. And there is still a lack of publications that are a real and specific help to the NNS of English (Salager-Meyer, 1992). What makes writing and summarizing in particular so difficult for NNS? Basically there are 3 categories of constraints: (1) Inadequate language competence This is NNS' inadequate knowledge of the L2 lexico-grammatical system which hampers text production. Teaching experience shows that these difficulties often relate to sentence types, grammatical patterns and the inappropriate use of cohesive devices, and lexis (cf. Swales, 1987). (2) Insufficient awareness of summarizing principles and of the discoursive/rhetorical

macrostructure of abstracts in L1 and consequently in L2 Writing and summarizing are time-consuming and therefore rarely practised skills in the L2-teaching process because there is no immediate feedback like in speech. Moreover, abstracting is a complex skill. One needs to produce content, to organize one's thoughts effectively, to express them in appropriate and accurate language. This holds especially true for topic sentences, arrangements of moves, paragraphing and paragraph-linking devices. (3) Insufficient awareness of cultural, cross-linguistic peculiarities The importance of this aspect was stressed by Clyne (1991) who pointed out striking differences between the so-called "Teutonic" and "Anglo-Saxon" styles. The dominant role of English in various subject areas forces NNS of English to obey and adapt Anglo-Saxon cultural norms. Inadequate adherence to the English formal norms is often considered "indicative of faulty research" according to Clyne (1991, p. 66).
Due to the above mentioned inadequacies, German researchers often feel less competent and even inferior to write abstracts in L2 and basically rely on translation services. These, however, often fail to produce adequate abstracts in terms of accuracy of the medical content, the information conveyed, and the linguistic means applied. It is therefore not surprising that research into abstracts has increasingly become a topic of discussion in recent years (Fluck, 1988, 1989; Gnutzmann, 1991; Ickier, 1993; Kretzenbacher, 1990; Oldenburg, 1992; Ruge, 1992; Salager-Meyer, 1990, 1992; Tibbo, 1992).

CORPUS AND METHODOLOGY The first task in this study was to get familiar with German medical discourse. Specialist communication in the medical science occurs in specialized areas and is characterized by different degrees of professionalism (expert-expert, expert-staff, expert-layperson). Various German medical journals of the period from 1989 to 1993 were scanned with regard to their journal character, language(s) of publication and instructions for authors. Interestingly, there is not only the trend to rename journals with English titles but also to only accept manuscripts in English. It is journals addressing clinicians and medical practitioners which still keep the German language for publication. But these journals basically require a German and an English author abstract. The instructions for authors were wide and unspecific recommendations. So one of the traditional German journals for internal medicine Zeitschrift fiir die gesamte Innere Medizin und ihre Grenzgebiete only refers to the length of abstracts (1/2 page) and the importance of key words and abstracts for international literature search. The second task was to select a corpus. Twenty medical English (ME) research papers and case studies in experimental and operative research and their corresponding German and NNS


Ines-A. Busch-Lauer Table 1. Length of articles and abstract Text length of article S P G G E 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 17 99 39 113 30 71 94 37 147 251 82 16 114 63 201 87 196 53 78 101 1 4 1 1 1 2 2 1 1 1 1 I 2 1 3 4 1 3 1 1 1 3 1 1 1 1 3 1 1 I 1 1 2 1 2 4 1 I 1 1 Length of abstracts S G 5 8 9 8 5 8 7 4 5 5 3 6 6 4 7 11 7 5 3 6 E 6 9 10 8 6 8 8 6 6 4 3 6 7 5 8 It 7 6 3 6 G 110 181 199 120 86 189 144 75 117 82 56 74 108 74 137 188 189 74 48 90 W E 85 184 107 101 100 166 146 73 120 86 87 99 125 134 161 192 197 98 75 113 G 22 22.6 22.1 15 17.2 23.6 20.5 18.7 23.4 16.4 18.6 12.3 18 18.5 19.5 17.0 27 14.8 16 15 E 14.1 20.4 10.7 12.6 16.6 20.7 18.2 12.1 20 14.3 29 16.5 17.8 26.8 20.1 17.4 28.1 16.3 25 18.8 Words/ sentences

S, sentences; P, paragraph; W, words; G, German; E, English.

English abstracts were drawn. These were 10 experimental research articles, 5 review articles and 5 case studies in German covering aspects of cardio-vascular diseases, cancer research, paediatrics and orthopedics. This wide range of abstract topics was selected to avoid conventionalized schemata of abstracts which may have developed within one journal or subject area. The journals were: (1) VASA Zeitschrift far Gefdflkrankheiten, Journal of Vascular Diseases; (2) Zeitschrift fiir Unfallchirurgie und Versicherungsmedizin; (3) Aktuelle Chirurgie; (4) Zeitschrift fiir die gesamte Innere Medizin. Klinik-Pathologie-Experiment; (5) klinikarzt. Medizin im Krankenhaus; (6) Krankenhausarzt. Zeitschrift fiir klinische lnformationen; (7) TW PiJdiatrie; and (8) Therapiewoche. Subsequent to selection, the author abstracts were segmented into constituent structural units and sentences and then analysed according to the following formal, structural and linguistic criteria: (I) overall length of articles (sentences) and of abstracts (sentences, words); (2) macrostructure [representation and arrangement of "moves", cf. Salager-Meyer (1992), which was confirmed by a specialist informant]; (3) linguistic realization (complexity of sentences, verbs and tense forms, linking words, lexical hedging).

RESULTS Before the analysis of the functional content of the abstracts was conducted, a brief examination of the overall length of the article, the length of abstracts and paragraphing was made (see Table 1). These data are useful to evaluate the degree of condensing information of articles in abstracts. Most German abstracts (13 of 20) and their English NNS equivalents (15 of 20) were written in one paragraph; only 3 of the remaining German abstracts vs 2 NNS English contained 2 paragraphs and 4 vs 3 were written in more than 2 paragraphs which did not indicate "move" development. The length of the research papers ranges from a minimum of 16 sentences to a maximum of 251 sentences; the number of sentences in the abstracts from 3 to 11. As can be seen from Table 1 there is no correlation between the overall length of the article and the length of abstracts. The degree of condensing information and selecting items for the abstract depends largely on the

Abstracts in German medical journals Table 2. Number and percentage of sentences per move Move Statement/background Purpose Corpus/methods Results Conclusions Case presentation Total number of sentences SG 39 11 15 34 19 4 122 SE 44 12 17 36 19 5 133 PG 31.9 9.0 12.3 27.9 15.6 3.3 100.0 PE 33.1 9.1 12.8 27.1 14.2 3.7 100.0


S, sentence; P, percentage; G, German; E, English.

author, his/her summarizing and text composition skills. The number of words in the German abstracts was minimum 48 and maximum 199 vs 73 and 197 in the NNS English equivalents. Though 12 of the 20 abstracts were translated into English, there are variations in the number of paragraphs, sentences and words between the German texts and their GNNS equivalents. Six abstracts were partly translated and only three were obviously written without referring to the German abstract. The mean number of words/sentences was 18.9 in the German and 18.7 in the NNS English abstracts which is less than was found by Tibbo (1992) for NS abstracts in chemistry (21 words/sentence), psychology (25) and history articles (25). This difference may be due to divergent types of research in the social sciences on the one hand and the natural sciences on the other hand. Following the Swalesian conception of "move", Salager-Meyer (1990, 1992) investigated 77 abstracts of various types of medical research. Applying formal, structural and linguistic aspects, she established the moves: Statement (or background information); Purpose; Corpus/ Methods (or procedure); Results (or findings); Conclusions; Suggestions, Recommendations and Data Synthesis for review articles; Case presentation for case reports. The presentation of these moves in the studied German corpus is shown in Table 2: Interestingly, none of the abstracts in the corpus was a "structured abstract" as proposed by the Ad Hoc Working Group for the Critical Appraisal of the Medical Literature (1987). There were 3 indicative abstracts in the corpus, 10 informative abstracts and 7 of a mixed nature. The representation and arrangements of moves varies according to the author's intention and the topic discussed. Moves are only partly signalled by linguistic means and are often combined in one complex sentence. Though some abstracts are divided into paragraphs, these do neither represent the structure of the reference text nor indicate move progression. As can be seen from Table 2, the move "Purpose of the study" occurs least frequently in German abstracts and their English equivalents. This move is often replaced by a relatively long "Statement of the problem area" (an optional move in English NS abstracts according to Salager-Meyer, 1990) or background information. This is true for abstracts of review articles but also for some abstracts of experimental research. Abstracts of case reports use a final bridge sentence to indicate "Purpose" and "Case presentation". This resembles the introductory section of research articles (cf. Examples 1 and 2). The sample texts are the NNS English equivalents as they appeared in the German medical journals. EXAMPLE 1: During childhood the torsion of the testicle is the most common cause of acute scrotal pain. Moreover it is the most severe acute affection of the scrotal organs and requires a rapid diagnostic proceeding and therapeutic intervention. A study was carried out in 146 children with surgery because of a torsion of the testicle. The praeoperative diagnostic findings of this are reported. The results showed that Doppler-sonography was the most sensitive diagnostic parameter to recognize a torsion of the testicle. This review summarizes current knowledge of the diagnostic and therapeutic management of the acute scrotal affection during childhood. TW Pddiatrie (1989) 2, p. 275 EXAMPLE 2: Balloon dilatation of acquired stenoses of aorta and large arteries is a widely used procedure. In case of congenital malformations such as coarctation,


lnes-A. Busch-Lauer however, this method is not recommended as therapy of first choice• The frequently marked degenerative wall lesions of such cases may be responsible for subsequent aneurysm formation. This complication has been reported in 10--40% of cases treated by catheter dilatation• A later correction of an aneurysm by surgery is much riskier than primary operation of a coarctation. A case report of a 28-year-old-woman with a false aneurysm following catheter dilatation of a coarctation is presented. VASA (1990) 19 (1), p. 78

In contrast to the German "introductory" abstracts, NS abstracts and articles often start with a topic sentence pointing to the "Purpose" and "Methodology" applied. Consequently, the English NS' reading expectation is different so that the NNS text at least appears to be "somewhat strange". Often it is even the first sentence which is decisive for the reader to continue or stop reading. The "moves" Methods (or procedure) and "Results" frequently occur in combined form in experimental research (cf. Example 3): EXAMPLE 3: . . . It is especially the in-situ-bypass procedure which has opened the path to new anastomotic sites at the level of the foot. Our own experience with 86 bypass procedures in 84 patients has given us an early patency rate of 82% in nondiabetic arterial occlusions and of 80% in diabetics... VASA (1990) 19 (1),

p. 53
These moves can be characterized as a chronological description of researchers to obtain data and retell them to the audience. Passive voice and past tense dominate in these moves in German abstracts. Surprisingly, passive voice was sometimes transferred into active present perfect (12 cases in the overall corpus) and using first person plural 'we' in the English equivalent text. The move "Conclusions" is explicitly announced in 8 abstracts, 9 abstracts indicate a vague conclusion and 3 omit it; instead recommendations are given. Furthermore quite a lot of lexical hedging could be observed in the German abstracts, e.g.
• . . i s t wahrscheinlich a l s . . , zu interpretieren

(is probably to be discussed a s . . . )
• . . e s ist wahrscheinlich, dab • . .

(it is likely/possible/probable that...) •..Sp~itresultate sprechen eher f i i r . . . (final data rather point to the possibility o f . . . • . . i n bezug a u f . . , sind die Ergebnisse mit einer gewissen Einschr~inkung aufzunehmen (these results should be regarded with due caution) • . . o b w o h l . . . erhOht ist, s c h e i n t . . , nicht betroffen zu sein ( t h o u g h . . . increased . . . . does not seem to be involved) ...die Ver~nderung, wahrscheinlich ausgelrst dutch . . . . diJrfte ein Ko-Faktor in der Pathogenese v o n . . , sein (this change probably due to . . . . might be a co-factor in the pathogenesis o f . . . ) The frequent hedging in the final move of abstracts is in correspondence with NS articles and abstracts as The Lancet (1992) states: "It seems that most contributors to medical journals find it extremely difficult to be certain which of their conclusions have been proven and which not, or so one must assume. So it is not surprising that they often stick to hedges--words or phrases used to denote lack of assertiveness." Hedges are not necessarily a disadvantage or even a mistake. They allow the introduction of new scientific data and conclusions in a manner that is tentative and yet understated. However, there may be cultural difficulties with hedging facing those for whom English is a second language, e.g. in case they overdo or disregard it. Considering the cohesive devices (linking words) in the corpus, we can state that authors quite often use linkers of adversative character (dennoch, jedoch--however, wiihrend, wohingegen--whereas); concessive linkers (obwohl, allerdings--although, as), consecutive linkers (so, folglich--so that, therefore) and additives (and, furthermore, in addition) which seems to oppose the findings presented by Salager-Meyer (1992, p. 119).

Abstracts in German medicaljournals Table 3. Commonverbs in the medical English corpus


GERMAN untersuchen, durchfiihren, darstellen, zeigen/aufzeigen, beobachten, feststellen, sein, haben, teilnehmen, betragen, ergeben, liefern, nachweisen,diskutieren, ableiten, ergeben, erkennen, interpretieren ENGLISH to study,to discuss, to consider, to perform,to obtain, to observe, to prefer, to investigate, to present, to show,to reveal, to be, to have

German abstracts often use complex sentence structures and enumerating sentences whereas NS English abstracts use plain and shorter sentences (Salager-Meyer, 1990, 1992). The preferred tense forms of the verbs in the German corpus were past tense and present perfect to describe background information and present tense to indicate ongoing research. Passive voice was frequently applied to avoid author's perspective. The range of verbs used in the German abstracts and their English equivalents is restricted which may have positive implications on teaching abstracting in medicine. Common verbs found in the corpus are listed in Table 3: Comparing this list with the study of Fluck (1988, p. 33) on abstracts in economics, linguistics and metallurgy reveals subject-specific differences in the preference of verbs in experimental science and technical subjects. A content analysis of the original German articles and their German abstracts indicates that the abstracts in most cases do not follow the structure and the argumentation of the article which also contributes to faulty linguistic expression in L2 abstracts. A comparison between the German abstracts and their English equivalents indicates that authors largely rely on their own translation skills that often results in a transfer of German academic thought patterns into English but also produces "bad" and "artificial" English, sometimes even conveying wrong pieces of information. Consequently, erroneous translations will certainly not be studied in more detail or misunderstood by the NS of English.


The preliminary study presented here produced several findings. First, German medical abstracts and their English equivalents do not necessarily follow the guidelines for manuscripts in the ISO standard nor do they follow the structure and argumentation of the original article. The presentation and arrangement of moves is regulated by author's intentions and summarizing skills. The compulsory "moves" established by Salager-Meyer (1990, 1992) for NS medical abstracts could not be identified in all abstracts of the corpus. In contrast to NS medical abstracts, the studied material puts emphasis on "'background information" but largely omits "purpose and scope" as well as "conclusions". Second, the analysis indicates that the equivalent NNS English abstracts are translations or were partly translated by the authors themselves and not revised. Structural inadequacies already present in the German abstracts are transferred into L2. In addition faulty translation occurs which may influence readability for the Englishspeaking community. As a consequence profound research done by German scientists may suffer persuasiveness because of linguistic incompetence, illogical structuring, lexical hedgings and vague conclusions. Third, though this study was of limited scope and could only reveal preliminary results, it clearly demonstrates that it is vital to introduce and to train abstracting in L2 in ESP course programmes to enable NNS scientists and medical staff to communicate effectively. Special emphasis should be put on macrostructure and 'structured abstracts' according to the Ad Hoc Working Group (1987). To overcome the present situation it also seems to be necessary to introduce the genre abstract into the training of technical translators because many journals require both an L1 and L2 abstract.


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