Using Non-Finites in English Academic Writing by Chinese EFL Students

By Yang, Bingjun | English Language Teaching, February 2014 | Go to article overview

Using Non-Finites in English Academic Writing by Chinese EFL Students


Yang, Bingjun, English Language Teaching


Abstract

Frequent use of non-finites is an important feature of English academic writing (Chafe & Danielewicz, 1987), but teachers and students in the Chinese environment are not aware of it. To investigate the problems that can be found in academic writings by Chinese students is significant in two aspects: academic writing by Chinese EFL students being largely ignored in literature; writing in English for publishing research being highly demanding in China nowadays. In order to look into how non-finites are represented in academically-oriented English writing by Chinese EFL students, three groups (30 participants in each) of EFL students from three levels of English proficiency (low-level, intermediate and advanced) were requested to participate in the present study. Participants were required to complete a test, following which 45 participants (15 in each group) were selected according to correlations between test results and scores in the nationwide examinations. Forty-five pieces of writing completed by the participants were then investigated in terms of lexical density, non-finite density, distribution of non-finites, and correlation between use of non-finites and writing proficiency. The results show that the use of non-finites is significantly correlated with higher levels of writing proficiency in English. The findings suggest that, as a typical phenomenon in English academic writing, the use of non-finites display distinct interference from the language of non-native writers, and that awareness of and emphasis on non-finites are necessary in the teaching of English writing, academic writing in particular, in the EFL environment.

Keywords: non-finites, EFL students, writing, systemic functional

1. Introduction

"Research into the English language behaviours and patterns of nonnative academics is beginning to appear" (Flowerdew, 2000, p.127). This is particularly true to the situation of EFL education in China because few focused on English academic writing before 2000 (Yu, 2003). Early studies mostly centered on vocabulary improvement and lexical selection (Santos, 1988). Recent studies have expanded into many other topics. Some introduced Chinese rhetoric and writing in ancient China to the world (Kirkpatrick & Xu, 2012), and a couple of text-books have recently been published for English academic writing for postgraduates (e.g. Huang, 2006). More recently, scholars began to focus on specific problems. For example, Hirvela and Du (2013) discussed two mainland Chinese students' engagement with paraphrasing in an academic writing course and found that students' understanding of the purposes and functions of paraphrasing influenced their paraphrasing practices in writing.

In the global context, the development of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) in the past 30 years has "reshaped the ways that English language teaching and research are conducted in higher education" (Hyland & Hamp-Lyons, 2002, p. 1). Different from writing in the everyday sense, academic English writing is "replete with complex syntactic constructions" and "failure to grasp the structural complexities at the sentence level" will bring forth problems in reading and writing (Shin, 2009, p. 401). As an approach to solving the problems, training in sentence-combining is helpful to comprehension, and more importantly, explicit instruction in sentence-combining strategies results in improved writing (e.g. Daiker, Kerek, & Morenberg, 1985; Saddler & Graham, 2005).

Complex sentences containing non-finites in sentence-combining are typical but are often underestimated. To use complex sentences in academic text is important for L2 writers at the university level (Hamp-Lyons, 1991), and as one typical but complicated part of complex sentences, non-finites need to be focused for they occupy a large proportion in realistic corpus (Egan, 2008). In response to Egan's calling, some recent studies looked into non-finite constructions in old English through corpora (e. …

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