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Self-mention in a scientific text – a way to circumvent the first-person pronoun?

Keywords: self-mention, Master’s thesis, scientific language, metadiscourse, discourse analysis


The requirement that a scientific text should be neutral and objective not only affects substantive issues, but alsolinguistic choices, including how to refer to oneself. The Estonian language offers numerous relevant options, the most natural of which are the first-person singular (for a single author) (Töös analüüsin... ’In the thesis I analyse...’) and the first-person plural (for collective authorship) (Töös analüüsime... ’In the thesis we analyse...’), both of which make an explicit mention of the author’s presence in the text, whereas the third person (Autor ­analüüsib... ’The author analyses...’), a metaphoric person (Töö analüüsib... ’The thesis analyses...’), the indefinite person (Töös analüüsitakse... ’lit. In the thesis it is analysed...’) and forms of the generic person (Võib analüüsida... ’One can  analyse...’) exemplify implicit language use, which enables keeping the author to the background, if not pushing them out of the text altogether.

Taking a metadiscursive approach to the 320 Master’s theses defended in the University of Tartu through 2013−2015, was attested that the impersonal is an accepted way of self-mention in all fields of research. This has become a norm supported by recommendations met in various instructions and guides. The impersonal is rivalled by mina ’I’, but only in the humanities and social sciences. The first person is rare in the sciences and medical papers, but there are a few graduation papers, where a single author refers to himself or herself using the first person plural form meie ’we’. The use of the third person pronoun, a metaphoric person or the generic person is occasional and may dominate but in single cases.

Riina Reinsalu (b. 1982), MA, University of Tartu, Junior Researcher,



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