Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

Discourse Connectives in L1 and L2 Argumentative Writing

Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

Discourse Connectives in L1 and L2 Argumentative Writing

Article excerpt


Discourse connectives (DCs) are multi-functional devices used to connect discourse segments and fulfill interpersonal levels of discourse. This study investigates the use of selected 80 DCs within 11 categories in the argumentative essays produced by L1 and L2 university students. The analysis is based on the International Corpus Network of Asian Learners of English (ICNALE) which consists of essays written by native speakers (NS) and non-native speakers (NNS) from 10 countries and regions in Asia. WordSmith Tools were used to generate the quantitative profile of the DCs, while follow-up qualitative analysis in the context of usage provided additional interpretive insights. The total frequency of DCs used by Hong Kong and Singaporean students is significantly less than do L1 writers, mainly because the addictive and is by far less frequent in the essays produced by L2 writers. Hong Kong students use much more enumerating, resultive and summative DCs than both L1 writers and L2 writers from Thailand and Singapore. Thai students, on the other hand, employ the causal device because much more than both L1 and other L2 writers. Hong Kong and Singaporean students are more formal in tone than L1 and Thai students when using the adversative and resultive DCs. Despite the apparent differences, there are considerable similarities of usage, with and, but, because, so, however and therefore occurring among the top 10 most frequently used devices of both L1 and L2 writers, although with strikingly different frequencies. These findings shed light on the pragmatic uses of DCs by L1 and L2 writers as a way to influence the interpretation of the message, and thus succeed in achieving their communicative intentions.

Keywords: discourse connectives, relevance theory, argumentative writing, learner corpus research

1. Introduction

Discourse connectives (henceforth DCs) have been the subject of intensive investigation over the past three decades, which "is likely due to their complex nature, reflected in key theoretical issues involving semantic vs. pragmatic meaning, propositional vs. non-propositional meaning and procedural vs. conceptual meaning" (Camiciottoli, 2010, p. 650). Its complex nature lead to various research perspectives which in turn result in many other terms similar to DCs, among which are sentence connectives (Halliday & Hasan, 1976), pragmatic connectives (Van Dijk, 1979), logical connectives (Hyland, 1998), pragmatic markers (Brinton, 1996; Andersen, 2001; Aijmer & Simon-Vandenbergen, 2006; Aijmer, 2013), discourse markers (Schiffrin, 1987; Jucker & Ziv, 1998; Blakemore, 2002; Fraser, 2006), discourse operators (Redeker, 1991), discourse particles (Fischer, 2006), linking adverbials (Biber et al., 1999), and adverbial connectors (Altenberg, 2006). Of all the terms the most popular ones are discourse markers, pragmatic markers, and discourse connectives. Considering that discourse markers and pragmatic markers are "particularly characteristic of spoken dialogue" (Biber et al., 1999, p. 140), we will use the term discourse connectives in that they are well suited to this study since this paper focuses exclusively on elements that have a connecting function in written discourse.

As an indispensable component in language, DCs fulfill important functions on the textual and interpersonal levels of discourse. It seems that the primary function of DCs is to state the speaker/writer's perception of the relationship between two units of discourse. Because DCs explicitly signal the connections between passages of text (by way of addition, enumeration, summation, apposition, result/inference, contrast/concession, and transition), they are important devices for creating textual cohesion (Biber et al., 1999, p. 875). From this perspective, they can be seen as metadiscursive items that function on the textual level (Hyland, 1998, 2005). However, DCs also express interpersonal meaning by not only drawing the listener's/reader's attention to the particular type of connection that exists, but also suggesting how the speaker/writer intends for it to be construed (Redeker, 1991; Barton, 1995). …

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