Naming in Master's Thesis Acknowledgements within Two Ghanaian University Departments.

Author:Afful, Joseph B.A.

Joseph B. A. Afful is Associate Professor and Dean of Faculty of Arts at the University of Cape Coast (Ghana), where he obtained his B.A. (Hons.), Dip. Ed., and MPhil (English). He has a PhD in Applied Linguistics from the National University of Singapore. He was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. He teaches courses in Genre Studies, Sociolinguistics, General Linguistics, Academic Communication, and Research Methods. His fields of research include English for Academic Purposes and Publishing, Sociolinguistics, (Critical) Discourse Studies, and Postgraduate Pedagogy. He has published in national and international journals such as Asemka, Drumspeak, Professional and Academic English, ESP World, Nebula, Sociolinguistic Studies, Journal of Multicultural and Multilingual Development and Nordic Journal of African Studies. He serves on both local and international editorial boards.

Mrs. Lena Awoonor-Aziaku completed her MPhil in English at the University of Cape Coast, where she was a Principal Research Assistant at the University of Cape Coast. She is currently pursuing a doctoral programme in Germany. Her interests are English Phonetics and Phonology.


Naming practices, in general, and address terms, in particular, constitute undoubtedly an important verbal behaviour among humans. The commonest set of studies on naming has focused on familial settings. Such studies include Evans-Pritchard's (1948) on naming practices among the Nuer along the Nile in Egypt. Address terms have not only been largely examined in several socio-cultural settings (e.g. Goodenough, 1965; Fang & Heng, 1983; Fitch, 1991; Aceto, 2002), following the most frequently mentioned study by Brown and Gilman's (1960) work, but also been studied in social institutions and practices such as politics (Jaworski & Galasinski, 2000; Fetzer & Bull, 2004), and religion (Sequeira, 1993; Dzameshie, 1997; Wharry, 2003). Address forms have been studied in different languages (see, for example, Bates & Benigni, 1975; Brown & Gilman, 1960; Brown & Ford, 1961; Chandrasekhar, 1970; Cintra, 1972; Paulston, 1976; Ostor, 1982; Oyetade, 1995).

Admittedly, there are various studies that have dealt with communication in academic settings, focusing on such notable academic genres as research articles (e.g. Swales, 1990, 2004; Hyland, 2000), dissertations/theses (e.g. Parry, 1998), lectures (e.g. Gomez & Fortuno, 2005), conference proceedings (Ventola, Shalom & Thompson (2002), and thesis defence (Recski, 2005; Don & Izadi, 2011).

Yet, there have not been a corresponding number of studies on naming practices in these academic genres. There are, as far as we know, a limited number of studies on naming practices and, for that matter, address terms in academic settings (e.g. Dickey, 1997; Li, 1997; Kiesling, 1998; Afful, 2006, 2010). Hyland's (2003, 2004) studies of thesis acknowledgements draw tangential attention to naming (reference terms and address terms).

In what follows, we present the aim of the study in order to provide a sense of direction for the present research. We then review the literature on naming on one hand and the literature on acknowledgement on the other hand and attempt to synthesise the two sets of studies. The next section is devoted to a description of the methodology and analytical framework of the study. The analysis and discussion of data then follows, with the conclusion and implications closing the research.

Aim of the Study

Studies on acknowledgements in research articles (RAs) and theses/dissertations have become recognizably important in recent times. Earlier, Caesar (1992) and Cronin (1995) had observed that acknowledgements were included in over half of all published RAs and virtually in all those in the sciences (McCain, 1991). Several years later, and influenced by this observation, Hyland (2003, 2004) examined this assertion in relation to dissertation/thesis acknowledgements (DAs/TAs). However, none of these studies, as far as we know, has explicitly explored naming practices in TAs. The present study, therefore, seeks to examine names used by postgraduate students of Department of English and Department of French at the University of Cape Coast in designating their thankees in their TAs. To guide the study, the following research questions are asked:

(i) What categories of thankees do postgraduate students in the two departments (English and French) acknowledge in their thesis acknowledgements?

(ii) What names do postgraduate students in the two selected departments use in addressing their thankees in their TA texts?

(iii) What account for the names used by postgraduate students in addressing their thankees in their thesis acknowledgements?

This section reviews the pertinent literature on the two related verbal behaviours (naming and acknowledgement) in order to provide a clear conceptual background to the study and to enhance the analysis and discussion of the data collected.

Naming Practices/Address Terms

Naming is part of every culture and names are very important to the bearer and giver. Among some societies, names are determined according to specific rules. In several African societies, children are given names through an elaborate ritual performance (Oyetade, 1975).

Among the Akan (a dominant ethnic group in Ghana), names are taken from events which happen during the pregnancy of the mother or shortly after the birth of the child (Agyekum, 2006). Also Ewes in Ghana, for example, children obtain their names from totems and family trees of their parents (Atakpa, 1987). In general, in Ghana, several studies conducted by scholars among the different ethnolinguistic groups such as the Akan (Afful, 1998; Mensah, 2005; Obeng-Gyasi, 1997, 1998; Agyekum, 2003), Ga (Dakubu, 1981), Ewe (Egblewogbe, 1983), Nzema (Arde-Kwodwo, 2006), and Kokomba (Bisilki, 2011) have pointed to the influence of several socio-cultural factors on naming practices.

At this point, it is worth noting that address terms generally emanate from the naming practices of a speech community. In everyday communication, people are named, referred to or addressed when spoken or written to. Oyetade (1995) defines address terms as the term used to designate a person in a dyadic one-on-one interactive encounter. In the contemporary world where technology is greatly influencing various human endeavours, Oyetade's (ibid) definition requires modification to include virtual communities. Dickey (1997) explains that 'reference term', is often used without the person being designated present. Afful (2007) acknowledges that reference terms and address terms may have the same human referent. Afful (e.g. 1998, 2006, 2010) has variously and extensively investigated address terms in Ghana. The findings in Afful's studies have largely confirmed the findings of earlier studies such as Gu (1990) and Akindele (1993) that the choice of address forms is influenced by socio-cultural indices such as age, relationship, social status, solidarity and politeness.

In academic publications writers do name or refer to others, particularly in their acknowledgements. 'Terms of address', as used in this study, refers to names used by students variously seen as 'acknowledgers' or 'thankers' (e.g. Al-Ali, 2010) for their 'acknowledgees' or 'thankees'; that is, the persons being thanked. In the present study, the use of 'naming' in master's thesis acknowledgements takes account of both 'reference term' and 'address term'.

Acknowledgements in Academic Publications

Acknowledgements in academic publications are written forms of the speech act of thanking. Searle (1969) states that thanking is an expressive illocutionary act; that is, the speaker expresses gratitude to the hearer for his or her prior action that is beneficial to the speaker. Acknowledgements are intended to make the recipient feel good; that is, they recognize the positive face of the hearer.

Most cultures emphasise acknowledgment or thanking. It is, thus, a common verbal behaviour which enables a person to show his or her indebtedness to the thinker for performing an act which the thinker deems useful. It is a social verbal behaviour, failure of which may receive a sanction or rebuke. Bach and Harnish (1979) add that a genuine feeling of gratitude must meet social expectations.

Unsurprisingly, as a key human behaviour, acknowledgements appear in academic writings such as research articles, theses and dissertations. Cronin (1995) holds the view that acknowledgements are meant to express gratitude for a mixture of personal, moral, financial, technical, intellectual, and conceptual support provided by or received from institutions, agencies, peers, mentors, academics, family members, and experimental subjects. Swales and Feak (2000) are also of the view that the acknowledgement section is not only a display of gratitude but also an opportunity for the writer to show that he or she is a member of the academic community and has benefited from that membership and, therefore, establishes a credible writer ethos. In the view of Hyland (2003), completing a thesis is an exacting task of intimidating length. Thesis acknowledgements are presented through the written mode to show its relative formal nature. Moreover, TAs deal with a multitude of thanked addressees in a simultaneous fashion.

Several scholars have examined acknowledgements from cross-cultural, linguistic, rhetorical, and generic perspectives. Notable among them are Hyland (2003 & 2004), Hyland and Tse (2004), Nkemleke (2006), Al-Ali (2010), Zhang and Jiang (2010), Cheng (2012), Afful and Mwinlaaru (2012), and Afful (2016). Some studies on TAs (e.g. Hyland, 2003; Hyland & Tse, 2004) have focussed on the schematic organisation components and their linguistic features in acknowledgement texts. Cheng (2012) used a Systemic Functional Linguistic (SFL) approach to discuss the relationship between transitivity and thematic...

To continue reading