Review of Second Language Writers' Text
|Hinkel, Eli, (2002) Second Language Writers' Text: Linguistic and Rhetorical
Features. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, xx+370 pp, paperback ISBN:0-8058-4033-8,
$39.99, ESL and Applied Linguistics Professional Series.
Georgette Jabbour, New York Institute of Technology, Old Westbury Campus
The book is a contribution to applied linguistics, contrastive analysis,
and corpus-based research of L2 text. It is important because it leads the
way to the use of research outcomes in teaching. The strength of this
large-scale research is that it lists the areas where flaws occur in
second language writer's text. Hinkel uses corpus-based research results
systematically to shed light on second language writers' divergences from
first language texts. She uses a corpus of 1,457 essays written by
speakers of seven languages: American English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean,
Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Arabic to carry out the comparison between
native and nonnative speakers' written performances. The number of essays
each language group has on file decides the order in which the results are
presented. These essays account for 434,768 words.
Hinkel's research delineates the difference in performance between English
language writers and second language writers on the basis of 68 lexical,
syntactic and rhetorical items of written responses to six prompts, in
advanced first-year composition courses. The prompts come from a variety
of sources such as the Test of Written English administered by Educational
Testing Services, the Michigan Test of English Language Proficiency, and
commonly used ESL and First Language composition textbooks. The prompts
are referred to as ''Parents'', ''Grades'', ''Wealth'', ''Manner'', ''Opinion'', and
''Major''. The selection of items is based on textual functions of words, on
word meanings, and on word frequencies. The main intent of the book is to
serve the ESL community in planning and designing writing courses for
college freshmen focusing on syntactic and lexical features of essay
SUMMARY OF CONTENTS
In the foreword, Robert Kaplan establishes the connection between Hinkel's
work and the tradition of text linguistics, discourse analysis, and corpus
linguistics, and theorizes the idea of ''second language acquisition'' by
referring to Berman and Slobin (1994), and the idea of ''text'' by referring
to Enkvist (1997), and Maurannen (1993). Kaplan underscores the importance
of ''noticing'' in language learning.
In the preface, Hinkel shows that the importance of the book stems from
the increasing number of international and immigrant students enrolling in
American universities. The author states that the purpose of the book is
to determine ''the specific syntactic, lexical, and rhetorical features [in
L2 text] that differ from those in comparable NS text''. The back matter of
the book consists of one hundred pages, including two appendices, a
glossary, a reference list, an author index, and a subject index.
The appendices tabulate, by rank order, the 68 linguistic features used
for the comparison between L1 and L2 writers' texts, coded by writers'
country of origin. There are also 36 tables that contrast the most
frequent 30 syntactic, lexical, and rhetorical features used in language
group texts for each of the six essay prompts.
The book consists of a total of fifteen chapters presented in four parts.
Part One consists of 72 pages and functions as a review of the development
in grammar, discourse, and rhetoric on the basis of contrastive analysis,
text linguistics, corpus analyses, and critical discourse analysis. It
establishes the ground for the research by identifying syntactic, lexical,
and rhetorical features in published texts, in composition research, and
in features of L2 writing. ''Writing as text'', ''Research in Academic and
ESL Written Discourse and Text'', ''Written Discourse and Text in Different
Rhetorical Traditions'', ''The Goals and Politics of Teaching ESL Writing''
and ''The Study of Features of Second Language Text: Essays, the Data, and
Methods of Analysis'' are the chapters in this part. The last chapter of
all provides a listing of the 68 features used in the research, which
falls into three categories, the largest being the linguistic area with 44
features, followed by subordinate clauses with 12 features, and by
rhetoric with 12 features.
Part Two consists of 87 pages, and is by far the most useful report of the
research. It classifies nouns, verbs, adjectives, subordinate clauses, and
rhetorical features on the basis of corpus research of published texts,
and on the basis of students' texts. For example, textual functions of
nouns are stated as enumerative, interpretive, and resultative, among
others. Text rhetorical features consist of coordination, exemplification,
presupposition markers, hedges, and fixed strings. This part consists of
five chapters: ''Nouns, Pronouns, and Nominals and Their Functions and Uses
in Text'', ''The Verb Phrase and Deverbals and Their Functions and Uses in
Text'', ''Adjectives and Adverbs and Their Functions and Uses in Text'',
''Subordinate Clauses and Their Functions and Uses'', ''Text-Rhetorical
Features and Their Functions and Uses''.
Part Three consists of 82 pages, and is entitled ''The Effect of Prompts on
ESL Text''. It includes three chapters: ''The First Three Prompts'', ''The
Second Three Prompts'', and ''The Differences That the Prompts Make''. This
part is set up in reference to the linguistic features elicited earlier,
regarding the listing of 68 features that form the backbone of the
research, and in reference to the data reported in reference to the
textual functions of nouns, verbs, adjectives, subordinate clauses, and
text rhetorical features. The tabulation in this part represents the
adjusted frequency rates of linguistic, lexical, and rhetorical features
used in L1 and L2 writers' text, organized by language group and essay
prompt. Each of the first two chapters include a 4-page listing of 68
features elicited for the prompts. The last chapter in this part presents
ten most frequently used features in language group essays across prompts.
These are: present tense, infinitives, third person pronouns, attributive
adjectives, fixed strings, phrase level coordination, copula be as the
main verb, private verbs, first person pronouns, and nominalizations.
The conclusion in Part Four consists of two chapters. In ''Determining
Priorities in Teaching and Curriculum'', the author classifies research
features into three priority classes, for inclusion in a teaching program.
A top priority class, for example, includes ''Fixed Strings and Some Other
Nouns'', ''Common Nouns and Expecting Verbs'', ''Personal Narrative Features'',
and ''Cohesive Features''. In ''Epilogue'', the writer sheds light on the
importance of awareness and noticing in L2 writing, and urges teachers and
teacher trainers to consider the fact that there are priority items in
teaching writing for academic purposes.
The book is a clear contribution to the field of research in second
language writing and composition for college freshmen. It is comprehensive
in the sense that it considers grammar, lexis, and rhetoric as essential
elements in teaching. It makes use of findings in the applied linguistics
fields of corpus linguistics, and of text and contrastive analysis to
identify criteria for a comparative study of L1 and L2 text.
The writer's position is that native students produce text that heralds
published text, and that the differences between native and non-natives
students' text are the problem areas that need to be remedied. The
research corpus consists of 434,768 running words of text, treated as
seven sub-corpora representing six essay prompts. The largest number of
essays are the native speakers', amounting to 242 essays in 71,153 words.
All other sub-corpora consist of a lesser number of words, except for the
Indonesian (IN) sub-corpora.
Hinkel's position regarding a hierarchy of texts may, however, not be
shared by other L2 writing researchers such as Grant and Ginther (2000),
who believe that L2 writing is idiosyncratic. Hinkel's use of lists of
linguistic features is reminiscent of Biber's lists (1988) that developed
a theory of text variation based on dimensions, but Hinkel's research does
not deal with variation. Sinclair's view of the strong relation between
discourse analysis and corpus linguistics is not tackled in Hinkel's
research background, despite the fact that she makes reference to
Sinclair's work, and work done by his proponents. All this seems to
support the idea that Hinkel is establishing her own way of looking and
analyzing L2 text. By denying a place to the term ''corpus linguistics'' in
her research, Hinkel seems to emphasize the idea that corpus linguistics
does not connect to L2 text because it deals with published texts,
limiting by this the scope of the term.
Hinkel's strength lies in the fact that she led her research not into a
study of language variation as corpora based research commonly leads to,
but into pinning down language areas that are useful to include in an L2
writing text. Hinkel's book is a must read for curriculum designers who
want to incorporate outcomes of corpus research in language teaching,
writing instruction in particular.
Grant, L. and Ginther, A. (2000) ''Using Computer-Tagged Linguistic
Features to Describe L2 Writing Differences. Journal of Second Language
Writing, 9 (2), 123- 145
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Georgette Jabbour is Assistant Professor of ESL, and ESL Program
Coordinator at the English Department of New York Institute of Technology,
Old Westbury Campus. Her interests are corpus linguistics, ESL literacies