Language change in L2 academic writing: The case of epicene pronouns

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Abstract

With the increasing demand for gender-fairlanguage, an important issue to take into consideration in academic writing isthe use of so-called epicene pronouns, i.e. singular personal pronounsunspecified for gender. Yet, little research has focused on how L2 Englishacademic writers use these pronouns. The present study examines the use ofepicene pronouns since the 1970s in L2 academic writing and analyses theircurrent use, starting from 2010. The data originate from two corpora withacademic papers written by Swedish-speaking university students of English: (1)the Finland-Swedish BATMAT corpus, which is used to extract diachronic data,and (2) the Swedish subset of the Varieties of English for Specific PurposesdAtabase, VESPA-SE, which adds to the data of current use. The results showthat although the use of generic he has decreased noticeably since the 1970s,there is considerable variation in and between the texts from the 2010s. Suchvariation is indicative of a language change that is still very much inprogress. The findings also suggest that singular they is establishing itselfas a third-person singular pronoun in L2 academic writing since this pronoun isused frequently with all types of epicene antecedents in the data of currentuse.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)95–105
JournalJournal of English for Academic Purposes
Volume38
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

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