Contrastive Rhetoric: Development and Challenges

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Contrastive rhetoric is an area of research in second-language acquisition that identifies problems in composition encountered by second-language writers and, by referring to the rhetorical strategies of the first language, attempts to explain them (Connor 1996: 5). Contrastive rhetoric and contrastive analysis are both fields of study in applied linguistics, which have contributed to the knowledge about the role of transfer from the native language to the target language.

In the past thirty years, contrastive analysis and contrastive rhetoric both have advanced the understanding about second language learning and teaching but have also come under criticism. Sajavaara (1996: 18) maintains that the criticism directed at contrastive analysis "as such was often totally misguided in nature" but acknowledges some failings of early contrastive analysis. He mentions the following: (1) not all the results were directly translatable for language teaching methodologies, as was often the expectation; (2) there was too strong a reliance on the structuralist view of language among contrastive analysts, and (3) English tended to be the only point of comparison, thus casting doubt on the independence of the descriptions of the languages contested. Similar criticisms have been raised concerning the results of earlier contrastive rhetorical research.

Although contrastive analysis and contrastive rhetoric are closely related in theory research foci, their relatedness has gone unnoticed until recently (e.g., Odlin 1989). James (1998) argues for a strong connection between the two and writes:

Does anyone remember Contrastive Analysis (CA)? And the title of Robert Lado's seminal 1957 work Linguistics across Cultures? And even Gerry Abbott's (1983) conciliatory call: "Come back Robert, nearly all is forgiven"? Well, it seems it has -- and he has -- come back (Do you get this sort of ellipsis in Japanese?) In the form of Contrastive Rhetoric (CR), an updated and focused neo-Contrastive analysis that is much the wiser with the benefit of 40 years of hindsight. (James 1998: 52)

The review of the research in contrastive rhetoric in the U.S. applied linguistics settings in the past thirty years and the challenges facing the field are the focus of this chapter. After a brief overview of the basic elements of the early contrastive rhetoric, I will describe new directions in contrastive rhetoric research in four domains. A discussion of challenges for contrastive rhetoric will follow in terms of teaching ideologies, standards, norms, and choices of English. Finally, a playful attempt will be made at a new set of contrastive diagrams or "wiggles".

2. Definition of contrastive rhetoric; Kaplan's original theory

Contrastive rhetoric is a branch of applied linguistics with very close ties to specific teaching situations. Initiated thirty years ago in applied linguistics by Robert Kaplan, contrastive rhetoric maintains that language and writing are cultural phenomena. As a consequence, each language has rhetorical conventions unique to it. Furthermore, according to Kaplan, the linguistic and rhetorical conventions of the first language interfere with writing in English as a second language.

Kaplan's study (1966) was the first serious attempt by applied linguists in the United States to explain the second language writing of ESL students. Kaplan's pioneering study (1996) analyzed the organization of paragraphs in ESL student essays and identified five types of paragraph development, as depicted in his frequently reproduced diagram, to show how L1 rhetorical structures were evident in the L2 writing of the sample students (Figure 1).

Kaplan's contrastive rhetoric has been criticized for several reasons: being too ethnocentric and privileging the writing of native English speakers; dismissing linguistic and cultural differences in writing among different languages, e. …