Delivering relevance: The emergence of ESP as a discipline

Ken Hyland, Fang (Kevin) Jiang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Since its emergence in the 1960s, ESP has become a key aspect of language teaching and research. This paper traces the last 30 years of this journey to show its emergence from the periphery of applied linguistics to a serious force on the world stage. To do this we use bibliometric techniques to track changes in ESP research through an analysis of all 3,500 papers on the Social Science Citation Index since 1990 dealing with ESP topics. We identify which topics have been most prevalent and which authors, publications, journals and countries most influential over time. The results indicate that classroom practices remain central to the discipline and that there has been a consistent interest in specialised texts, particularly written texts, and in higher education and business English, with a massive increase in attention devoted to identity and academic and workplace discourses. The global interest in these questions is shown by the range of authors, diversity of geographical sources and the uptake of papers in a range of fields. We believe our findings may interest both ESP professionals in identifying crucial publishing areas and academics fascinated by the emergence of a new discipline.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-25
Number of pages13
JournalEnglish for Specific Purposes
Early online date15 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Bibliometrics
  • Citations
  • ESP authors
  • ESP publications
  • ESP research
  • ESP topics

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