This paper seeks to explain the radical decrease in the use of the passive voice in Present-day English scientific discourse. A number of different linguistic factors having been discounted in previous research, it is hypothesised here that passives are being omitted for two reasons. Firstly, they became conventionalised in scientific discourse and subsequently lost the pragmatic function which originally justified their high frequency in scientific texts. Secondly, over the course of the twentieth century two sociocultural circumstances converge that exert pressure on conventionalised passives to disappear, namely (i) the increasing competitiveness in the scientific community, and (ii) the democratisation of discourse. This hypothesis is tested in the present paper by analysing the function of passives in scientific discourse before the drop in frequency began, that is, in Late Modern English (1700–1900). With data from ARCHER and other sources I will try to show that passives in Late Modern scientific English exemplify the conventionalisation and loss of contextual function of pragmatic strategies, a scenario that, given the right sociohistorical conditions, leads to linguistic change.
2020. Research in foreign language didactics III, ► pp. 125 ff.
Su, Hang, Yuqing Zhang & Xiaofei Lu
2021. Applying local grammars to the diachronic investigation of discourse acts in academic writing: The case of exemplification in Linguistics research articles. English for Specific Purposes 63 ► pp. 120 ff.
Wheeler, Melissa A., Ekaterina Vylomova, Melanie J. McGrath & Nick Haslam
2021. More confident, less formal: stylistic changes in academic psychology writing from 1970 to 2016. Scientometrics 126:12 ► pp. 9603 ff.
Yin, Shuhui, Yuan Gao & Xiaofei Lu
2023. Diachronic changes in the syntactic complexity of emerging Chinese international publication writers’ research article introductions: A rhetorical strategic perspective. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 61 ► pp. 101205 ff.
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