Adversative and concessive conjunctions in Chinese EFL writing : a functional perspective

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Adversative and concessive conjunctions in Chinese EFL writing : a functional perspective


Author: Zhang, Yan
Title: Adversative and concessive conjunctions in Chinese EFL writing : a functional perspective
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2014
Subject: English language -- Grammar.
Second language acquisition.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Department: Dept. of English
Pages: xv, 337 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 30 cm.
Language: English
InnoPac Record:
Abstract: This dissertation is a comparative study of adversative and concessive conjunctions in English texts written by Chinese EFL learners and the native-speaker writers, who are comparable in age and educational stage. Adversative and concessive conjunctions are expressions that indicate semantic relations of contrast and concession between text spans of varying extent. Informed by Halliday and Matthiessen's (2004) systemic account of clause complexing and CONJUNCTION, adversative and concessive conjunctions fall into two broad syntactic categories, i.e. structural conjunctions that link or bind clauses within the domain of a single clause complex (e.g. but, although, etc.) and cohesive conjunctions that typically mark relations beyond the clause complex (e.g. however, nevertheless, etc.). In view of the meaning relations, these conjunctions represent two different semantic categories, i.e. adversative type of extension and concessive type of enhancement. Very often, an adversative or concessive conjunction can be used with a great deal of semantic overlap between these two types of expansion. That is, the same instance of a conjunction in a text may be interpretable both adversatively and concessively. The indeterminacy between contrast and concession has been discussed in the literature on grammaticalization. For instance, Ramat and Mauri (2008) argues that "the diachronic paths attested for adversative and concessive connectives partially overlap as far as originally temporal values are concerned, but tend to diverge in the remaining cases" (p. 5). Given the complex nature of adversative and concessive conjunctions at the syntactic and semantic levels, these conjunctions have been a source of difficulty for EFL learners in writing. The aims of this dissertation are to investigate the syntactic and semantic categories of adversative and concessive conjunctions, and to explore the discourse functions of these conjunctions in writing of Chinese EFL learners and native speakers. Drawing on Halliday and Matthiessen's (2004) notion of grammar as a meaning-making resource, this dissertation is oriented towards uncovering the meaning distinctions between a group of adversative and concessive conjunctions instantiated in English texts written by Chinese EFL learners in comparison with those written by their native-speaker counterparts. Motivated by the concern with probability profiles and systemic potentials of adversative and concessive conjunctions, the study combines the strengths of two research methods, i.e. the corpus-based approach and text-based analysis along the lines suggested by Matthiessen (2006). The corpus-based approach makes it possible to analyze a group of conjunctions in large data sets in quantitative terms of certain low-level lexicogrammatical features such as syntactic positions and co-occurrence patterns. However, analysis involving text-level features is difficult to handle with this approach; these features have to be explored in full-length texts manually. As discussed in Matthiessen (2006), in light of the expected difficulty of analyzing a large volume of data manually, the usual practice is to have a trade-off between low-level analysis of large-volume data and high-level analysis of small-volume data.
The present study draws on a learner corpus and a native-speaker corpus. The learner data is taken from the Chinese Learner English Corpus (CLEC) (Gui & Yang, 2003) and the native-speaker data is based on essays from British Academic Written English Corpus (BAWE-E), a corpus of proficient student writing for degree programmes at UK tertiary institutions (Nesi &Thompson, 2007). The corpus-based analysis starts with an overview of a total number of seventeen adversative and concessive conjunctions across the two corpora. Comparisons are made in three major areas: i) overall frequency and distribution of the types of inter-dependency between clauses, namely structural and cohesive; ii) distribution of semantic categories, i.e. adversative, replacive and concessive and iii) positional distributions, such as clause-initial and clause-medial positions concerning cohesive conjunctions and initial and final dependent clauses concerning the subordinating (hypotactic) type of structural conjunctions. Following the overview of a group of 17 conjunctions, the next step of the corpus-based analysis is devoted to the detailed study of four specific conjunctions, namely but, while, however and on the contrary. The in-depth study focuses on the syntactic and co-occurrence patterns of these conjunctions in order to shed light on the specific type of semantic relations they encode. The text-level analysis is based on a full-length text taken from the Chinese Learner English Corpus. Text-level analysis is of particular importance in accounting for the discourse properties of adversative and concessive conjunctions used in Chinese EFL learners' writing. Specifically, it is concerned with searching for discursive evidence as to why and how adversative and concessive conjunctions are used in relation to other linguistic choices instantiated in English texts written by Chinese EFL learners. Finally, based on the findings from the corpus-based analysis and the text-based analysis, pedagogical implications are drawn. The pedagogical implications take into account both features of text and variables of context, with an aim to systemize EFL writers' linguistic choices of adversative and concessive conjunctions in relation to context. The perspective to EFL writing adopted in this dissertation is in line with the multi-perspective second language writing theory suggested by Silva and Matsuda (2001). Silva and Matsuda (2001), in the introduction of Landmark Essays on Second Language Writing, emphasize the need for a theory of second language writing that considers various elements of second language writing - including the writer, the text, and the context, as well as the interaction of these elements. It is hoped that the present study of adversative and concessive conjunctions will not only contribute to our understanding of these conjunctions in terms of the meanings created, but also to our understanding of the systemic potential of clause complexing and CONJUNCTION as complementary grammatical resources for realizing semantic relations, and ultimately to our knowledge of grammar as a meaning-making resource. To our knowledge, this study is among the first to adopt a corpus-based Systemic Functional Linguistics perspective in investigating the semantic relations encoded by adversative and concessive conjunctions in EFL writing.

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