Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Discourse Organization in High School Students' Writing and Their Teachers' Writing Instruction: The Case of Taiwan

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Discourse Organization in High School Students' Writing and Their Teachers' Writing Instruction: The Case of Taiwan

Article excerpt

Abstract: The present study compares the discourse organization in compositions by senior high school students in Taiwan in their Chinese and English classes and explores the influence of their teachers' writing instruction in order to extend the current understanding of students' discourse organization in the school context. The researcher collected data through the analysis of 432 writing samples taken from high school Chinese and English classes and interviewed their teachers to explore what kind of instruction they employed when teaching writing. The researcher interviewed 20 students to further probe their choices in adopting a "direct" or an "indirect" approach to writing. The findings show that, while most students often used a direct approach in their Chinese and English expository composition, different patterns of discourse organization did exist. The researcher interpreted the data as supporting the view that deductive thinking patterns may not be difficult for Chinese students in Taiwan, particularly in their English writing, and teachers' instruction and assessments of writing can be effective in this area.

Key words: Chinese, English, contrastive rhetoric, discourse organization, writing instruction

So far, contrastive rhetoric studies have brought about equivocal evidence of variation in rhetorical patterns in Chinese and English discourse, on the basis of the predominant "direct" versus "indirect" dichotomy (e.g., Connor, 1996; Kaplan, 1966, 1988, 1990). Awareness of disparity is essential for language learners to communicate. For instance, studies of English as a foreign language (EFL) writing assessment often suggest that some students have particular problems learning the rhetorical patterns of English language academic discourse, negatively influencing their test scores. Success on such tests is usually a requirement for further academic study.

Kaplan's seminal 1966 article on contrastive rhetoric, "Cultural Thought Patterns in Intercultural Education," sheds light on writing in different cultural settings. Contrastive rhetoric, partially derived from Whorfian ideas of the associations among language, culture, and thought, is a hypothesis that the logic expressed through the organization of written text is culture-specific; in other words, it proposes that people who speak different languages will organize the same reality in different ways (Kaplan, 1966, 1988, 1990). That they should do so seems self-apparent, because different languages offer different resources for organizing ideas and text. Nevertheless, this filtering of textual logic through language is for the most part implicit; that is, learners of a second language (L2) are unconscious (1) that their first language (L1) affects the way they organize textual logic, (2) of the way an L2 text is logically organized, and (3) that there is a difference between L1 and L2 writing.

Kaplan further argued that speakers of different languages have different cultural thinking patterns that are reflected in how they organize writing. He drew graphs of cultural rhetoric patterns that portrayed English rhetoric as a straight line and Asian rhetoric as a spiral. According to this theory, speakers of Asian languages characteristically do not use the same type of rhetorical organization that native English speakers use; native English writers are inclined to adopt a direct and to-the-point organization, whereas Asian writers are inclined to adopt an indirect, talkingaround- the-point pattern of organization.

Kaplan's description of the direct English rhetorical pattern and the indirect Asian rhetorical pattern has inspired many studies on contrastive rhetoric. The key issue for contrastive rhetoric is whether or not there are differences between organizational patterns written by speakers of different languages and members of different cultures.

The Origins of Different Written Discourse in English and Chinese

English Writing

The concept of literacy (and, by extension, rhetoric) is manifestly dependent upon the culture that generates it (Hinds, 1990). …

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