Cultural Transfer in EFL Writing: A Look at Contrastive Rhetoric on English and Indonesian

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Abstract: Studies in contrastive rhetoric since Kaplan's (1966) article have indicated the need of looking at L2 writing from different perspective by considering factors such as L2 learners' historical background in L1 writing, the development in their writing process, and the genres before we come to analyze the texts. By following such approaches, this study wants to see if there has been any cultural transfer in L2 writing of Indonesian writers. However, this has led to the probing of Indonesian L1 writing as well. This study again suggests the complexity of rhetoric in writing.

Key words: contrastive rhetoric; culture.

The study of contrastive rhetoric has undergone substantial growth since the publication of Kaplan's article entitled Cultural Thought Patterns in Intercultural Education in 1966. In his article Kaplan presented five drawings depicting five different rhetorics. English rhetoric was depicted as a straight line, Oriental rhetoric as a spiral, Arabic rhetoric as a series of zigzags, and Roman and Russian as lines heading downward but veering off at different angles along the way. Kaplan's 1966 research has been considered as the first major study that attempted to analyze how L1 cultures manifest in L2 writing, which was influenced by the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. He argued that L2 students writings, especially their paragraph organization, exhibited the students' L1 cultural thought patterns.(Allaei & Connor, 1990, p. 22). For some time the visual memory of the five sketches Kaplan proposed was dominating the thinking, learning, teaching and writing of teachers and students. Many ESL writing textbooks and teacher texts reprinted the sketches and generations of teachers and students learned that English speakers did develop their ideas in a linear fashion and Orientals in a non-linear and spiral fashion, etc. (Soverino, 1993, pp. 44-45)

After over thirty years of studies carried out in this field, there have been considerable reactions as to the qualification of Kaplan's position in contrastive rhetoric (Among them are: Hinds, 1987, 1990; Carell, 1987; Mohan and Lo, 1985; Matalene, 1985; Purves, 1986; Liebman, 1992; Allaei & Connor, 1990; Leki, 1991; Severino, 1993). It was argued that contrastive rhetoric research examines the product only, detaching it from and ignoring both the contrastive rhetorical context from which the L2 writers emerge and the process these writers may have gone through to produce a text. (Leki, 1991, p. 123). Liebman maintains that "Kaplan believed that texts reflected culture, yet the cultural context that produced these texts was not explored." (1992, p. 143) Kaplan himself has revisited his cultural thought patterns article which has been known as the "doodles article." He wrote that

In that study, I tried to represent, in crude graphic form, the notion that the rhetorical structure of languages differs. It is probably true that, in the first blush of discovery, I overstated both the difference and my case. In the years since the article first appeared, I have been accused of reductionism - of trying to reduce the whole of linguistics to this single issue. It was not my intent then, and it is not my intent now, to claim more for the notion than it deserves. Nevertheless, I have become gradually more convinced that there is some validity to the notion. (1987, p. 9)

Hence he was trying to reduce his strong conviction as proposed in his 1966 article, yet simultaneously still maintain the validity of the notion.

Several studies in contrastive rhetoric have shown that we need to approach this field with a stance that acknowledges the complexities of the rhetorics of different languages and cultures by examining the genre, age and class background in a complex discourse analysis (Indrasutra, 1988); the organizational patterns emphasized in school writing and students' pedagogical histories (Soverino, 1993); while continuing to examine contrasts in the smallest features of texts, investigations of the broad political and historical contexts for writing and recognition of not just rhetorical style but also purpose, task, topic, and audience, need to be included (Leki, 1991); or in a framework of what Liebman (1992, p. …