Spreading the Word about (Web)Genre Research

What is genre? Why is it useful to master genre conventions? Can we classify document genres automatically?

Around the world, lots of researches and scholars belonging to a wide range of disciplines are trying to provide answers to these and to many other questions. Aristotle suggested the first genre classification scheme by dividing literature into Tragedy, Comedy and Lyrics (well, I am oversimplifying…).  Aristotle smoothly classified all the knowledge of his time, so arguably classifying genres was probably a minor task for him. But it was indeed easier in the IV b. C. to suggest a genre taxonomy than it is today with our daily exponential growth of the web, of social networks and with a sparkling technology that encourages massive textual production.

Texts and documents are not randomly created. They reflect the conventions of human communication in a certain time and in certain community. Genres help us formalize these conventions. Since conventions change over time, genres are not static either. They change according to cultural, social and technological advances…

Genre can be observed from many different perspectives. Some academic communities are more interested than others in studying the concept of genre of written/web/digital texts. How can we come to terms with such a complex and pervasive concept? That’s an ongoing and long-lasting challenge, and that’s why we are constantly working and pondering how we can define the concept of genre in a satisfactory way (for example, see here).

In the field of NLP or Computational Linguistics or IR or Text Analytics in general, the potentials and the benefits of genre research and especially of automatic genre identification are still underestimated.   Genre is a difficult concept to pin down, and we all agree on that. Automatic Genre Identification is still in a niche, and that’s the uncontroversial. So, given these two premises it is easy to state the conclusion: WE NEED MORE RESEARCH! Please use this blog, the WebGenre group on LinkedIn, the Genres On the Web page on Facebook to disseminate genre-related research and to discuss genre-related issues. Genre, Register, Text Type, Domain, Style…. call it as you wish, but spread the word about genre research and talk about genre-related issues.

Many people are interested in genre studies and try to know more about this topic. For instance, since its online publication on October 01, 2010, there has been a total of 2785 chapter downloads for the book “Genres on the web. Computational Models and Empirical Studies Text, Speech and Language Technology, Vol. 42, Springer” form SpringerLink. This means that this genre book was one of the top 50% most downloaded eBooks in the relevant Springer eBook Collection in 2013.

This shows, in my opinion, that a wide multidisciplinary audience is ready to enter the meanders of genre classification and is interested in exploring the cognitive and computational sides of the concept of genre. So… welcome everybody and spread the word about (web)genre!

Many genre books have been published in recent years. If you are interested in the empirical explorations and automatic genre classification,”Genres on the web. Computational Models and Empirical Studies” is a good starting point. Springer has recently introduced a MyCopy version, which is a service that allows library patrons to order a personal, printed-on-demand softcover edition of an eBook for little money. Additionally, journal editors, journalists or bloggers can request a free Online Review Copy of the book from your book’s home page.  Help yourselves!

Have a nice summer, Marina

1 comment for “Spreading the Word about (Web)Genre Research

  1. 8 July, 2014 at 10:00

    From “Applied Linguistics”, LinkedIn Group.

    Stephen Durnford

    This quest reminds me of the research into facetted classification that occupied many minds a quarter century ago and perhaps still does. It is also closely tied in with current research into encoding cultural information so that a computer can “understand” more of what a piece of spoken or written text might actually mean to a human hearer or reader (see, for instance, http://www.businessinsider.com/cycorp-ai-2014-7).

    A textual genre is a classification at headline-level only and not a linnaean rubber stamp. For instance, a tragedy may have its comic moments, and a comedy its sad and sombre scenes. The assignment of a document to a genre is also partly subjective and perhaps unstable too, depending as it does on the sensibilities and mood of the person doing the assigning at the moment of doing it.

    Have I misunderstood the thrust of this topic?
    Marina Santini

    Thanks for your thoughts, Stephen. I think your stance about genre is compliant with what we call the “bottom-up” approach, ie an “instinctive-intuitive” approach to document genre classification. However, there is also the “expert” view on genres. For ex, think of the all the manuals describing and teaching academic writing. They often describe how to write specific academic genres, such as “essays”, or “theses”, and “papers”. The classification of these genres is less dependent on the mood and more dependent on the conventions established in a specific field or discipline….
    Stephen Durnford

    Any taxonomic system of genres and sub-genres depends crucially on well-chosen terminology, rigorously defined. This can only be done by reaching right to the bottom of each to check for gaps and conflicts, then back up to the top again. Working bottom-up is one way of collecting, collating and agreeing all the relevant constituents.

    Undetected mismatches of definition or unchecked assumptions of meaning are major sources of mystery and conflict, be it between religious sects or the management teams of companies when merging. For genres of documents the risk is perhaps less dire, but the principle is the same.
    Katerina Xafis

    This link might be of interest as it makes reference to interdiscursivity, hybridization and colonization: http://www.cambridgescholars.com/download/sample/57859
    Marina Santini

    Thanks for the link, Katerina. I will read it with interest.
    My thoughts about genre hybridism are summarized here: http://www.nltg.brighton.ac.uk/home/Marina.Santini/HICSS_07.pdf

    The genre colonization idea comes from this paper (http://www.asis.org/Bulletin/Dec-01/beghtol.html) by Clare Beghtol.

    Beghtol says: “Readers’ expectations for and understanding of various genres have been exploited in such practices as genre colonization, where the vocabulary and text forms of one field are used to rationalize and legitimize changes in another. For example, discussions of students as both the “consumers” and the “products” of an educational institution use terms from the field of marketing to create new kinds of expectations in the field of education. This analogical reasoning likening one field to another extends to the development of analogous text genres such as the creation of marketing plans, mission statements and outcome analyses for educational institutions. In cases of genre colonization, readers must have expectations both for the genres of one field and of the standard structures and expectations of another field.”

    I think this “colonization” aspect deserves more investigations in the future in order to understand the level and the impact of genre hybridism of digital documents.

    I wish you a nice summer


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