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Review of  Contrastive Rhetoric

Reviewer: Elizabeth (Betsy) Craig
Book Title: Contrastive Rhetoric
Book Author: Ulla Connor Ed Nagelhout William Rozycki
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 19.2648

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EDITORS: Connor, Ulla; Nagelhout, Ed; Rozycki, William V.
TITLE: Contrastive Rhetoric
SUBTITLE: Reaching to Intercultural Rhetoric
SERIES: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2008

Elizabeth Craig, Department of English, Linguistics Program, The University of

The field of contrastive rhetoric (CR) has a well-established, 42-year history
since Kaplan (1966) first invoked the term for the study of variations in the
style and rhetorical structure of texts by nonnative speakers of English. As
evidenced by this volume, CR has grown exponentially from a discipline focused
on second language academic essay writing to one concerned with virtually any
type of culturally-embedded prose. The field was initially subject to much
criticism for seeming to presume the superiority of English linear argumentative
essay style and has grown to appreciate the many styles exemplified by different
genres of writing in various social settings. This edition serves as a sampler
of the diverse span of CR studies today, which is why the editors are calling
for a renaming of the discipline to 'intercultural rhetoric' in order to better
reflect its current, much broader area of interest.

I. Current State of CR
Part One begins by positioning CR as the study of 'situated' discourse analysis
in that all of the texts analyzed are seen as products of particular
environments, both large and small.

Xiaoming Li (Long Island University) credits CR with its most practical purpose:
to inform L2 writing pedagogy. She makes the valid point that Chinese writers
may not be encouraged to write in the argumentative style so highly regarded by
American universities because this type of writing could be perceived as a
threat to social and/or political stability in their home country. Li herself
admits to being a Chinese-American who still relies on native speaker
proofreading, especially for lingering doubts about her own use of English
articles and prepositions. She aspires to make the case that 'contrastive
rhetoric' is too delimiting a term for the field and suggests the change to
'intercultural rhetoric' to include more qualitative, ethnographic research.

Ana I. Moreno (University of León) cautions that a thorough consideration of the
contextual factors for any piece of writing is necessary to ensure a
scientifically valid comparison of maximally equivalent corpora across cultures.
She even questions whether genres are truly comparable across cultures. In order
to guarantee scientific rigidity in this area and show that differences are due
to culture, she warns that all other factors have to be the same as the next
author demonstrates.

II. Contrastive Corpus Studies in Specific Genres
Annelie Ädel (Mid-Sweden University) takes a look at metadiscourse, that is, the
use of language about language, in student essays by comparing three corpora
both quantitatively and qualitatively. She finds striking dissimilarities both
between learner and native speaker usage of metadiscourse features and between
the two groups of native English speakers, one American and the other British.
Learners are found to use the greatest amount of 'talk about writing,' and
British English writers are found to use the least, with American writers
falling in the middle. Ädel attributes this difference to four possible sources:
the fact that the genres may not even be comparable because the learner essays
(an available group of Swedish learner essays from the ICLE corpus), unlike the
native speaker essays, were both timed and not researched; cultural conventions;
there could be a lack of register awareness on the part of the learners and the
American English speakers; and some potentially universal learner strategies may
be at work such as a focus on word count rather than on content to complete the
assignment. This chapter in particular highlights the many factors that have to
be considered when comparing corpora. If so many factors differ, it is difficult
to impossible to pinpoint any one factor as decisive to the outcome, and as the
author suggests, any generalizations have to be rendered with caution.

Haiyeng Feng (City University of Hong Kong) analyzes the discursive strategies
of nine successful Chinese grant proposals and suggests that the differences she
finds are more attributable to 'local contexts' about face saving and networking
rather than to general Chinese cultural conventions. Feng interviews the authors
of the grant proposals in order to accurately describe their intended strategies
in the changing economic, political, and academic climate in China. The
proposals were examined for ten standard features typically found in English
grant proposals in the social sciences and were found to be similar in discourse
structure and stylistic features, but notably shorter overall and less concerned
with research means and literature review. Translations of relevant sections of
the proposals are provided, and an Appendix includes the entire, original
Chinese texts.

Maria Loukianenko Wolfe (Iowa State University) conducts a linguistic and
rhetorical analysis of Russian and American sales/product promotion letters by
overlaying the cultural dimensions of power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and
individualism/collectivism from Hofstede's framework (1984). A main goal is to
inform the teaching of specific conventions of English business correspondence
to Russian learners from real-life data in order to avoid miscommunication. The
data were analyzed qualitatively for the presence of six specific rhetorical
devices such as placement of the purpose statement. Without passing any
judgment, Wolfe describes the American letter writers as attempting to reduce
power distance, to avoid uncertainty, and to assert their individuality in
contrast to the Russian writers, who seem to be more concerned here with just
establishing a relationship with the reader.

Chin-Sook Pak (Ball State University) and Rebecca Acevedo (Loyola Marymount
University) focus on quantitative differences such as word count and sentence
length in the textual construction of persuasion in Spanish varieties used in
newspaper editorials in New York, Los Angeles, Madrid, and Mexico City, all also
compared to English language editorials in _The New York Times_. Interviews with
respective editors are included to shed light on intended audience readership.
The authors wish to highlight the variation found among Spanish writers.

Lorena Suárez and Ana Moreno (University of León) consider the rhetorical
structure of academic book reviews of literature by Spanish and English writers.
Texts are examined for four components thought to be typical of the genre:
introducing the work, outlining, highlighting and evaluating it. Spanish
reviewers are found to be more descriptive and non-critical, utilizing more
'sympathetic' evaluations.

Wei Wang (University of Sydney) analyzes newspaper commentaries in China and
Australia on terrorism and the 9/11 attacks. He looks at the rhetorical
structure, identification of participants, writer identity, and appraisal. While
Chinese writers present more facts and evidence, English writers argue for
solutions. There is little writer identity in the Chinese texts and explicit
authorship in the English texts. Wang attributes these features to the social
purpose of exposition by the Chinese government and the group orientation of the

III. CR & ESL/EFL Writing Teaching
As the field initially began with an eye toward informing pedagogy, this volume
takes a closer look at English teaching from a global perspective.

Virginia Lo Castro (University of Florida) presents an 'inclusive' ethnographic
study of Mexican students' writing practices in both their L1 Spanish and L2
English. Using a functional perspective, the author contrasts what these
students do in their writing compared to certain native speaker norms with
regard to comma usage and cohesion markers. The students' university environment
is emphasized taking into consideration the classroom, textbook, and teachers
involved with writing pedagogy. Questionnaires are utilized to discover student
and teacher perceptions of the challenges in teaching and learning how to write
at two Mexican universities, one public and one private.

Kara McBride (Saint Louis University) looks at how EFL internet users in Chile
conduct web searches differently from native speakers. In evaluating their
'information literacy,' she is able to discern a distinction in how her subjects
were accustomed to reading websites possibly leading to ineffective search
strategies on English language websites. The Chilean students' attention to
different parts of the screen leads them to abandon their searches prematurely.
This study suggests a close alignment with schema theory in intercultural reading.

Xiaoye You (The Pennsylvania State University) renders a historical examination
of theme choices for writing topics in Chinese education. He demonstrates how
much influence the political context, from neo-Confucianism to socialist
regimes, had on assigned essay topics and what was expected of students' writing
and how the ''correct'' treatment of themes in writing about ideas was encouraged
by the prevailing government and its dominant ideology in each era. You
describes the ''epistemological shift'' in writing instruction in China that
accompanied political change.

Joel Bloch (The Ohio State University) provides a cross-cultural and historical
perspective of conceptions of plagiarism. Ambiguous definitions of plagiarism
are shown to have evolved along with other synchronic and diachronic dimensions
of both Eastern and Western cultures, such as current ideas about intellectual
property and access to information on the internet. He relates the inevitable
paradigmatic shift in CR to the cyclical nature of scientific revolutions (Kuhn,

IV. Future Directions
Paul K. Matsuda (Arizona State University) and Dwight Atkinson (Purdue
University) engage in an academic conversation, analyzing Kaplan (1966) and
Connor (1996) from the various angles of pedagogy, research, and theory. They
discuss the beginnings of CR as ''a practical solution to pedagogical issues.''
The interlocutors are somewhat ambivalent about the proposed name change from
'contrastive rhetoric' to 'intercultural rhetoric,' saying it is needed because
of its broader framework, but then admitting that the terms 'intercultural' and
'rhetoric' can be elusive and problematic as well. Matsuda is concerned that the
term 'intercultural rhetoric' can also be limiting in that it implies a focus on
''the interaction of two different rhetorical traditions.'' Ultimately, he
suggests the term 'inter-rhetoric' as able to accommodate the enormous amount of
variables that have to be considered in any contrastive study of writing. CR is
thus relegated to a research agenda without a goal-oriented theory.

Ulla Connor (Indiana University-Purdue University) utilizes a postmodern mapping
technique to describe the history of CR in her critique of the term as too
limiting. She proposes 'intercultural rhetoric' as more sensitive to various
writing contexts and the dynamic development of the field. Writing is seen as a
''socially constructed activity'' and an intercultural encounter among smaller
cultures in an appreciation for the complexities of examining situated
discourse. Connor suggests we move away from simplistic dichotomies and show
more interest in non-Western rhetoric with greater sensitivity to historical,
economic, and political influences on writing. In this particular collection of
essays, this goal has been met.

With its focus on the construction of texts in varying contexts, this volume is
particularly strong in its emphasis on the fact that all writing is socially
situated. All of the authors display an appreciation of language, culture,
writing practices, and text types as dynamic and fluid concepts. The variety of
text types under study here emphasizes the fact that not only culture, but the
''situated genre'' or conditions for the construction of particular text types
should be a primary consideration in any comparative analysis of written discourse.

This volume offers heretofore little examined text types: academic research
articles, research reports, grant proposals, and business writing. In fact, such
a diverse collection may be more suitable for university libraries rather than
for any personal collection. Had I not been reviewing the text, I would have
read only those chapters most informative for writing pedagogy. The volume does
give equal attention to both qualitative ethnographic approaches and
quantitative corpus linguistics, yet seems overly concerned with theoretical
developments rather than with practical, writing classroom applications.

CR is viewed as linked to contrastive analysis, structuralism, and behavioralism
[sic.] and their attendant ideologies. I find little inherently wrong in
contrastive analysis in its moderate application, and the term 'contrastive
rhetoric' indicates that the field is not only about culture and the attendant
differences in writing styles, but also about differences within and among
situated text types or genres. I remain unconvinced that a name change is
warranted. In fact, 'contrastive rhetoric' seems the broader of the two and more
amenable to its current wider applications.

The main criticism of the name of the discipline is that it is static and too
limiting for the magnitude of what the field has evolved to cover, i.e. all
types of formal writing by native and non-native speakers of any language. It is
felt by the editors that the term 'intercultural rhetoric' would allow for a
more dynamic definition of the scope of what is to be taken into consideration
in the growing field of contextualized analysis. It is further an attempt to
throw off the yoke of CR, which has been criticized as being too narrow-minded.

The book does achieve what it set out to do: explore the expanding theoretical
base of CR and offer some practical applications for the second language writing
classroom. But as the variety of text types examined demonstrates, CR runs the
risk of losing its own focus and pushing the bounds of the discipline into
domains already covered by other fields of research such as schema theory, genre
analysis, second language writing, and corpus linguistics. I would even question
the inclusion here of some of the chapters under the rubric of rhetoric as quite
a reach indeed.

Connor, U. (1996) _Contrastive rhetoric: Cross-cultural aspects of second
language writing_. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hofstede, G. H. (1984) _Culture's consequences: International differences in
work-related values_. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Kaplan, R. B. (1966) Cultural thought patterns in intercultural education.
_Language Learning: A Journal of Applied Linguistics_ 16 (1), 1-20.

Kuhn, T. (1970) _The structure of scientific revolutions_ (2nd ed.). Chicago,
IL: University of Chicago Press.

Elizabeth Craig is an experienced ESL/EFL composition teacher with a masters
degree in Applied Linguistics & TESOL. She was the English Language Fellow to
Paraguay in 2006-2007 and is currently ABD in SLA at The University of Georgia.
Her dissertation will focus on a description of preposition collocations in
freshman compositions at UGA. Ms. Craig is also Supervising Editor of _English
around the World_, a free, weekly newspaper insert for English language
educators in Asunción, Paraguay.