An analysis of discourse markers and discourse labels as cohesive devices in ESL student writing

Yuhas, Brandon J., author
Delahunty, Gerald, advisor
Reid, Stephen, committee member
Kaminski, Karen, committee member
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This study analyzes the use of two types of cohesive device, discourse markers (Fraser, 2005) and discourse labels (Francis, 1994), in the academic arguments of native-speaking (L1) Chinese English as a second language (ESL) first-year composition (FYC) students. Discourse markers (DMs) are lexical expressions which signal that a semantic relationship of elaboration, contrast, inference, or temporality holds between adjacent discourse segments. Discourse labels are a type of nominal group lexical cohesion which makes use of unspecific abstract nouns to label and organize stretches of discourse. Using a qualitative text analysis, the use of these cohesive devices is examined in each case in terms of the discourse requirements of the text in question. An analysis of native speaker (NS) writing is used for comparative purposes to determine possible gaps between these two groups of student writers in the ability to use these devices to construct cohesive texts, as well as to determine potential similarities and/or differences in instructional foci for these two groups of student writers. The result of this study suggests that these ESL student writers do not tend to have problems using DMs or retrospective labels, but that they do tend to underuse advance discourse labels in their writing. Underuse of advance labels was not found to be a problem in the NS arguments analyzed. These results indicate that a knowledge gap does in fact exist between these non-native speakers (NNSs) and NSs with regard to the tools available to them in English for constructing cohesive academic texts. Annotated examples from the samples analyzed and specific teaching suggestions are provided to help FYC instructors address this knowledge gap.
2013 Summer.
Includes bibliographical references.
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