A contrastive study of the rhetorical structure employed in English texts by native speakers of English and native speakers of Spanish
It has often been observed that students of English as a second language not only speak with a foreign accent but write with a distinctively foreign accent as well. Two apparently conflicting theories have been proposed to account for both success and failure in the acquisition of standard written English rhetorical patterns at the discourse level. On the one hand, Kaplan (1966) claims there is negative transfer of culturally based rhetorical norms from the first language into rhetorical practices in the second. On the other hand, Cummins (1980) points to positive transfer of cognitive/academic language proficiency. In other words, there is controversy as to whether the rhetorical choices of a second language writer are determined by his or her first language or by his or her cognitive/academic level.
The purpose of this study is to investigate systematically the extent to which each of these factors operates in the production of a second language text. To do this, the study employs Rhetorical Structure Theory (Mann and Thompson 1986) to examine 64 essays written by foreign born Hispanic students currently studying in the U.S. at the undergraduate and graduate levels, by native born English speakers at comparable academic levels, and by model writers whose texts are included in a freshman English composition textbook.
The results of the study indicate that there are clear correlations between rhetorical skills and both first language and academic/cognitive level. Further, it is found that specific skills correlate with each. While in matters of overall relational complexity, academic/cognitive level, not first language, is the chief predictive factor, in matters of embedding and extent of structural development, a significant correlation with first language is found.
0279: Language arts
0282: Bilingual education
0282: Multicultural education