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Prefaces in medical dictionaries: from moves to rhetorical analysis


Medical dictionaries represent, among the other things, an important pedagogic genre (Swales 1995, Bhatia, 1997, Hyland 2000) within academic education, since they are the means through which professional writers talk about their disciplines and address to scholars. The preface sections are of the utmost importance since, among several functions, they (should) attract and orient the readers (Azar, 2012). This paper describes the macro structure of preface sections in fourteen English dictionaries related to the field of medicine and investigates on the rhetorical and discursive devices employed in these texts to establish the importance of the author's work. In addition, the paper questions on the nature of dictionaries readership and, as such, addressing moves are analysed. The preface sections were extracted from the fourteen dictionaries published between 1719 and 1949 in order to assess the potential reader to whom these manuals are addressed and to identify the moves, the rhetorical and discursive devices that occur in the medical text prefaces. Move structure is analysed according to a taxonomy of categories adapted from Swales (1990) and Bhatia (1993). More importantly, results are studied within the historical context in which these dictionaries are published and within the medical advances that took place between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The study of medical dictionaries in terms of their generic structures and functions (Swales, 1990) can be useful for researchers willing to understand how societal changes modify group-communities and their specific and generic knowledge.