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Discourse Interpretation. The Use of Discourse Markers in High School Students’ Argumentative and Narrative Essays

Hausarbeit 2015 25 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Pädagogik, Sprachwissenschaft


Table of Content

Research Questions
Theoretical Framework
Fraser’s taxonomy of discourse markers


Quantitative Results
Quantitative Differences
Writing Quality
Qualitative Results
Lack of Sentence Combination Techniques
Incorrect use of DMs
Unnecessary use of DMs
Initial positioning of DMs

Pedagogical Implications



Writing, as a macro skill, has been a central focus in most Philippine curricula in the last three decades and continues to be so. Filipino students are taught varied strategies on how they can improve their writing to produce well-organized texts. Specific writing devices are needed to help students formulate cohesive and coherent texts. Several studies have aimed at analyzing these devices, generally termed as discourse markers (DMs), which were considered as “growth market in linguistics” by Fraser (1998). DMs were first dealt in a seminal paper by Halliday and Hassan (1976) when they analyzed text and questioned: “What makes a text different from a random collection of unrelated sentences?” Although the direct use of the term DMs was not mentioned, Halliday and Hasan, (1976, cited in Schiffrin, 1987) proposed a set of cohesive devices (reference, repetition, substitution, ellipsis, and conjunction) that “help create a text by indicating semantic relations in an underlying structure of ideas.” Fraser (2009) found that several expressions are used to refer to DMs including cue phrases (Knott and Sanders, 1998), discourse connectives (Blakemore, 1987, 2002; Hall, 2007), discourse markers (Blakemore, 2002; ; Schiffrin, 1987; Fraser, 1999, 2003, 2007; Mosegaard-Hansen, 2008; Lenk, 1998), discourse operators (Redeker, 1991, 1992), discourse particles (Schourup, 1985; Abraham, 1991; Kroon, 1995; Fischer, 2000; Aijmer, 2006), pragmatic expressions (Erman, 1987), and pragmatic markers (Fraser,1996; Brinton, 1990; Erman, 2001).

DMs are linguistic items such as well, however, so, because, etc. which contribute to the cohesiveness, cohesion, and meaning in discourse segments. Fraser (1990) provided an account of DMs to clarify their status and defined DMs as “a class of lexical expressions drawn primarily from the syntactic classes of conjunctions, adverbs, and prepositional phrases.” Fraser further elaborated by reviewing previous theoretical frameworks about DMs and explained that “with certain exceptions, they signal a relationship between the interpretation of the segment they introduce, S2, and the prior segment, S1.” Researchers investigated a considerable body of studies including the use of DMs in the writings of EFL/ESL (Norment, 1994; Liu & Braine, 2005; Duterte-Angeles, 2005; Taboada, 2006; Jalilifar, 2008; Tan-de Ramos, 2010; Rahimi, 2011), and the differences of the use of DMs in native and non-native speakers’ writings (Field & Oi, 1992; Johnson, 1992; Tyson, 1996; Granger & Tyson, 1996). DMs have also been studied in narratives (Segal et. Al 1991, Koike, 1996; Narita, Sago & Suguira, 2004; Castro, 2004; Tapper, 2005), argumentative writings ( Mei, 2006; Liu, 2006), and how the DMs contribute to the overall quality of writing (Connor, 1984; 2000; Castro, 2004; Connor, 2004; Jalilifar, 2008).

In analyzing DMs, two accounts have emerged to which researchers subscribe. The issue highlighted in this difference is regarded to “how the use of DMs contributes to discourse interepretation” (Hussein, 2008). The first account known as the coherence-based account is adopted by researchers including Zwicky (1985), Schiffrin (1987), Fraser (1988, 1990), Redeker (1990, 1991) and Giora (1997, 1998). Coherence refers to the property of a written text that uses explicit linguistic devices to signal relations between sentences and parts of sentences. Such cohesive devices help the reader make sense of the text by associating previous statements with subsequent ones. Through cohesion, discourse is made semantically meaningful. Halliday and Hassan (1976, cited in Hussein, 2008) point out that “the concept of ‘cohesion’ accounts for the semantic relationship through which a certain passage of speech or writing becomes a text”. In analyzing DMs, Schiffrin (1987) and Halliday and Hasan (1976) maintain that DMs should be considered as linguistic devices that “link adjacent units of talk to make the whole discourse”. Cohesion can have the following forms (Halliday and Hassan, 1976): co-reference, ellipsis,substitution, and conjunction and can be achieved to a certain extent through grammar and vocabulary, termed as grammatical cohesion and lexical cohesion, respectively. Grammatical cohesion is achieved through the use of connecting linguistic expressions or DMs such as and, or, but, yet, now, then, however, and after all. Lexical cohesion,on the other hand, refers to the meaning in the text and can be attained through ‘repletion’ and ‘reiteration’ devices. Reiteration is the repetition of an earlier item as in word repetition (e.g. ascent and ascent), synonym and general word (e.g. ascent and thing) (Jobbins and Evett, 1998).” Another type of lexical cohesion is repletion, sometimes called repetition of words that are related to one other.

Under the relevance theory account, the focus is on cognitive processes whereby the linguistic form of a sentence or an utterance “potentially gives rise to a number of possible interpretations” (Müller, 2004). The hearer, knowing the propositional content of the said utterance or sentence, would locate the most relevant interpretation of the given context (Sperber and Wilson, 1986; Blakemore, 1992). In using DMs, the hearer is guided in several interpretations of the context. This account is based on Grice’s (1967) conversational maxim of relevance and predisposes the hearer to relate to an utterance. The interpretations generated from the utterance may be accountable to several variables: the hearer’s cultural and general background, the explicitness or implicitness of the statements, order of the utterances, speaker’s intended meaning, among others.

Blakemore (1987) proposed that DMs are used to indicate how the relevance of one discourse segment is relevant to another. Further, Blakemore argued that DMs are expressions which “impose constraints on relevance in virtue of the inferential connections they express.” DMs, in this account, provide the hearer limitations in the interpretations of an utterance. Other researchers who subscribe to this account are Jucker, 1988; Blas, 1990; Helt and Foster-Cohen, 1996; Unger, 1996; Ariel, 1998; and Andersen, 2001.

Research Questions

The current study seeks to identify, quantify, and analyze the use of DMs in high school students’ argumentative and narrative essays. It also intends to probe into the relationship of the frequency and use of DMs to the quality of the students’ writing, Specifically, it would answer the following:

1. What types of discourse markers are utilized by Grade 9 Filipino ESL learners in personal narrative and argumentative writing?
2. Are there any significant quantitative and qualitative differences in the use of discourse markers by Grade 9 Filipino ESL learners?
3. Is there a direct relationship between the number of discourse markers used and the quality of students’ writings?

Theoretical Framework

The growth of studies involving DMs has expanded to several areas and has recently turned to second language writing, Cohesion, being an essential element in writing, has been explored in pedagogic settings, native and non-native speaker production, and classroom contexts.

Without any instruction on DMs, Jalilifar (2008) monitored the descriptive composition writing of 90 Iranian students in two universities for eight weeks. The results culled from the study showed that university students employed discourse markers with different degrees of occurrence. Aside from the most frequently used elaborative markers, students also employed inferential, contrastive and topic relating markers. In a similar study conducted by Rahimi (2011) involving the use and frequency of DMs in argumentative and expository writings of Iranian EFL learners, it was found that contrastive and conclusive markers were significantly higher in argumentative papers than on expository essays. In both essay types, and was investigated to be frequently used. Martinez’s (2004) study on DMs in the expository writings revealed a weak area in teaching English as a foreign language. Majority of the DMs explored were elaborative markers (45.18%) were extensively used in the compositions because expository writing requires “elaboration of ideas which depends on the use of elaborative markers to signal quasi parallel relationships between segments” (Martinez, 2004). In expository writing, the text organization is developed in a clear pattern to provide the reader with deeper insights into the topic. It can be relatively essential in language teaching to focus lessons on DMs and provide appropriate examples to improve students’ writing skills. Further, the findings in the study showed the importance of elaborative markes in relation to the number of DMs used in the compositions and the effect on the compositions’ quality.

Zhang (2000) conducted a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the use of DMs in one hundred and seven expository compositons of Chinese undergraduates. Similar with Martinez’s (2004) study, it was found that the undergraduate students used some DM types ,particularly elaborative markers, more other DMs. The additive conjunctions: and, also, besides, in addition, furthermore, and what is more were the frequent elaborative markers found in the study. Also, there was no significant statistical relationship between the overall quality of writing and the frequency of DMs, which were called cohesive ties in the study.

Djigunović and Vickov (2010) sampled 200 primary and secondary school students’ use of DMs in guided letter writings using a mixed-method approach. Pre-teaching of DMs was not done in the writing task to avoid teacher preparation and interference. Similar to other studies, elaborative markers represented the widest range of DMs in the data frequency using Fraser’s (1999) and Swan’s (2005) classifications. However, the said study posed a problem on the high frequency of the DM and for it “performs a wide range of discourse functions’ and ‘made the compositions read rather monotonously”. Another possible reason cited on the frequent use of and , but, because and I think is their simple orthographic and phonological structure and semantical unambiguity which makes them easy to use and acquire.

Tapper (2005) investigated how advanced Swedish EFL learners and American university students use connectives in argumentative essays. Culling the data from the International Corpus of Learner English (ICLA), the findings reported that Swedish EFL learners overused adverbial connectives compare to their counterparts. However, the EFL learners employed a slight variety of connectives compared to the native learners. It was also found that the high frequency of connectives used was not found to be an indicator of good writing quality. Ghasemi (2013) investigated the use of cohesive devices in second language writings and found that “a composition with more cohesive devices cannot be considered as a coherent one.” It is necessary for teacher to integrate classroom activities that would boost the writing skills of second language learners. Among these activities are vocabulary enrichment, reading-writing tasks, and patterning of texts.



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Titel: Discourse Interpretation. The Use of Discourse Markers in High School Students’ Argumentative and Narrative Essays