Academic journal article English Language Teaching

An Empirical Study on Information Prominence Reflected in Sentence Structures of Chinese College EFL Argumentative Writing

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

An Empirical Study on Information Prominence Reflected in Sentence Structures of Chinese College EFL Argumentative Writing

Article excerpt


Prominence, as an important dimension of cognitive construal, refers to the capacity to evoke a certain substructure as the focus of attention, which can be materialized in a variety of semantic and grammatical expressions (langacker, 1987). Subject of a sentence (Zhang, 2011) and specific sentence structures (Lin, 2013) can bring a substructure into salience by highlighting it in a specifically grammatical place. Accordingly, the place of subject or the specific sentence structures which are applied to emphasize certain information can reflect a writer's intention of prominence. Thus, this essay will take prominence of Langacker's cognitive construal as theoretical basis and has an empirical study on information prominence of 20 argumentative writing papers written by Chinese college EFL learners from Leshan Normal University. By categorizing the sentences of each sample into five types of structures-link verb sentence, active sentence, passive sentence, non-finite verbs as subject and the specific sentence patterns, and referring to the statistics of sentence structure application and the specific writing contents, it is found out that the writers are inclined to highlight subjective or static information, which leads to subjectivity and powerlessness of argumentation.

Key words: EFL writing, cognitive construal, prominence, sentence structures, subjectivity

1. Introduction

EFL (English as Foreign Language) writing is a productive skill for college students, which can explicitly reflect learners' aptitude in thinking, organization and expression. As for Chinese college EFL learners, the task of writing appears in most English tests like CET-4 (College English Test-level 4) or CET-6 (College English Test-level 6), requiring them to express their opinions accurately and fluently (Cai Jigang, 2002). In terms of argumentative writing the author has noticed an interesting phenomenon that most of the writers can objectively illustrate a point in their native language with solid arguments but as for the same topic, their English writing seems subjective and powerless. Apparently apart from the shortage of objective and forceful supports, it seems that the biggest problem lies in their capacity to emphasize information in an objective manner, or prominence of objective information, which is primarily reflected in lexicon and sentence structures (langacker, 1987: 107). Since the choice of lexicon is more elusive and random to be analyzed in a quantitative level, investigating the specific grammatical place of a sentence which highlights certain information means significantly for the information prominence in this study and for inspiration to advance EFL writing performance in the future.

2. Literature Review

The last decades have witnessed abundant studies on EFL writing in China, which are generally processed in three aspects: 1) the improvement of teaching EFL writing has been demonstrated in many studies. In the last decade, the research approach has been converted from applied linguistics to empirical studies (Du, 2001; Ye, 2002; Cai, 2005), enabling EFL writing to be analyzed in quantitative and qualitative levels (Wang, 2000). Such polybasic approaches as network and multimedia have been also applied to advance the teaching of EFL writing (Zhang et al., 2005; Yang & Zhang, 2006; Wu & Zheng, 2006). Since the development of cognitive linguistics, many studies have been conducted from this perspective. Zhang (2007) shows how such cognitive theories as prominence, perspective, figure-ground and iconicity are applied in writing class to improve EFL learners' writing performance; He (2008) illustrates the importance of imparting metaphor theory to EFL writers; Liang (2015) correlates various cognitive models with different rhetorical models, like schemata theory and figure-ground theory with narration, categorization and subcategorization theories with exposition, specificity and basic-level categorization with argumentation, concluding that writing should be completed by substantializing abstract knowledge system. …

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