Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Linearity in Language. Rhetorical-Discursive Preferences in English and Spanish in the Light of Kaplan's Model

Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

Linearity in Language. Rhetorical-Discursive Preferences in English and Spanish in the Light of Kaplan's Model

Article excerpt


In the present work the author tries to analyse one of the fundamental concepts that underlie Kaplan's theory: his idea of "linearity". Rather surprisingly, despite its importance, it is a construct that usually goes undefined in the literature. Different parameters of rhetorical organisation will be considered in this paper in order to clarify the essence of linearity. We shall check then Kaplan's contention that English is a "linear" language whereas Spanish, a member of the Romance family, is characterised by a broken or non-linear structure. We shall also verify if there exist differences between English and Spanish in the discursive organisation of an expository text. Finally, we shall discuss which parameters appear to be more coincidental and more divergent within the rhetorical organisation of each language.

KEYWORDS: linear language, contrastive rhetoric, expository prose, rhetorical devices, Spanish rhetorical conventions, formal parameters.


Over the past forty years there has been an increasing concern with the written text in all its manifestations: from being one of the least studied linguistic skills up to the end of the sixties it has become one of the most prolific areas of current research (Kaplan, 1987; Purves, 1988; Martin, 1992; Kachru B, 1992; Rubin, 1995; Connor, 1995, 1996; Davison, 1998; Grabe & Kaplan, 1996; Kaplan, 1987, 2000; Kaplan & Grabe, 2002, etc. The behaviour of Spanish learners of English as a second or foreign language has been studied by Santana-Seda, 1975; Montaño-Harmón, 1991; Lux & Grabe, 1991; Ostler, 1992; Reppen & Grabe, 1993; Monroy & Scheu, 1997; Moreno, 1997; Trujillo, 2002, etc.).This "discursive linguistics" in Enkvist's words (1987) embraces text linguistics, stylistics, genre studies, speech analysis but also contrastive rhetoric (CR for short), a theory first formulated by Kaplan in 1966. The study of paragraph organisation in different languages (five basic types were established) was approached by Kaplan as the starting point to assess writing as product, one of the four fundamental skills required to master a foreign language within the behaviourist paradigm. The theory was also a reflection on certain schemes of classical rhetoric with a view to developing those skills needed to write properly in a foreign language context, mainly English1. This implied in fact giving up the rhetorical conventions of the first language that might cause interference with the ones favoured by the target language. The focus nowadays has broadened up considerably encompassing "differences and similarities in writing across languages" (Connor, 2001: 28) including academic and professional writing (Swales, 1990; Mauranen, 1993; Tirkonnen-Condit, 1996, etc. ).

Kaplan's initial theory derived from an ontological stand very much like the one that underlines British contextualism as initiated by Malinowsky and Firth and continued by Halliday and followers of context linguistics: that logic is not a universal, but the product of a specific culture; consequently, every single culture has its own rhetorical schemes. In his own words, "Logic? is evolved out of a culture; it is not a universal. Rhetoric?is not universal either, but varies from culture to culture and even from time to time within a given culture' (1966: 2). And a few years later, "My original conception was that?rhetoric constituted a linguistic area influenced by the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis?I would still maintain? that rhetoric is a phenomenon tied to the linguistic system of a particular language" (1972: Preface).This idea, very much like the Vosslerian concept of 'idiomatology', would explain why the student of a foreign language violates the expectations of the native reader. Both content and form would be surface manifestations observable, according to Scribner and Cole (1981), at three levels: the functional discursive (a given culture can favour say a much more expressive way of writing than another), the level of cognitive exigency (the way of structuring and organising information), and the pragmatic level (a given community's writing expectations). …

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