“To our great surprise …”: A frame-based analysis of surprise markers in research articles

Guangwei Hu, Lang Chen

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Although academic discourse has a reputation for its emotionless objectivity, the emotion of surprise is often expressed in scientific writing. Paradoxically, surprise is cognitive in nature and recognized as a knowledge emotion. Given the connection between surprise and knowledge-making, it is surprising that linguistic expressions of surprise (i.e., surprise markers) in academic discourse have received little research attention. This article reports on an empirical study of surprise markers in research articles. Informed by Charles Fillmore's frame semantics, the study identified and analyzed all the surprise markers in a corpus of 320 research articles. A total of 439 surprise markers were found to evoke seven interconnected semantic frames. These semantic frames contained eight conceptually distinct frame elements, five of which were markedly more frequent than the rest and appeared in 12.76–100% of the frame instances identified. Based on the results of the analyses, a genre-specific Surprise frame with five key frame elements was generalized and is presented in this article as a conceptual tool for understanding how surprise and its linguistic expressions partake in the construction of scientific knowledge. Recommendations are made about how the conceptual frame can inform future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)156-168
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • Frame semantics
  • Knowledge emotion
  • Research article
  • Surprise marker
  • The emotion of surprise

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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