The Texture of Inefficiently Self-Regulating ESL Systems

The Texture of Inefficiently Self-Regulating ESL Systems

Terence Patrick Murphy (Yonsei University, Korea)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-895-6.ch026
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This chapter addresses the question of how to measure the student’s English as a second language (ESL) textual sophistication. It suggests that the second language text is an inefficiently self-regulating system, at the levels of grammar, lexis and logico-rhetorical structure. Learner texts use a narrow or even fixed set of key lexical phrases; they deploy cohesive ties that bind the text incorrectly, they omit cohesive ties altogether, or redundantly retain items that are easily recovered from the situational context. Following a review of some typical second language cohesion problems, the chapter offers an analysis of the emergent texture of four versions of the same paper, each written by a different ESL student. The results suggest that a learner text-maker is unable to perceive the ineffective choices in texts written at levels of sophistication higher than those he or she is capable of creating.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Markedness: According to Roman Jakobson, “the general meaning of a marked category states the presence of a certain property A, the general meaning of the corresponding unmarked category states nothing about the presence of A and is used chiefly but not exclusively to indicate the absence of A (quoted in Greenberg, 1966, p. 25). For example, in some environments, actor is to actress as “male thespian” is to “female thespian.” However, in other environments, actress is neutralized by the term actor because actress can only refer to female thespians. In addition, actress is morphologically the more complex of the two terms, requiring the addition of an extra morpheme. For this reason, within the terms of the unmarked/marked distinction, actor is unmarked, whereas actress is marked (Clark & Clark, 1978, p. 231, Greenberg, 1966, p.26). In narrative fictions, an extremely important distinction may be made between chronologically ordinary narratives such as romances and marked order narratives such as detective fictions and Gothic horror stories. There is also the important secondary distinction between the marked character and the other characters, who are all unmarked (Murphy, 2004, 2005b).

Logico-Rhetorical Structure: In functional grammar, the logico-rhetorical structuring of a text refers to the intermediate range of choice situated between the grammar and the lexis. In conjunction with the punctuation, it is this intermediate range of choice that is used when configuring the text’s logico-rhetorical structure. The choice of different logico-rhetorical structuring allows the same textual information to be presented in a definite (but not unlimited) range of alternative textualizations. In the terms of Robert De Beaugrande (1980), the logico-rhetorical structure of the text is a form of procedural knowledge. In well-organized texts, this procedural knowledge is “formatted as programs designed to run in specifically anticipated ways” (p. 65). One example of a program designed to run in an anticipated way is the situation-problem-solution-evaluation structure. It follows that an inefficient text runs in unanticipated or unpredictable ways.

Comment: A sentence that picks up the given information of the previous sentence and elaborates it in some way.

Move: A sentence that picks up the new information of the previous sentence and extends it in some way.

Inefficiently Self-Regulating System: A text is an inefficiently self-regulating system when its grammatical, lexical and logico-rhetorical ties are improperly configured. As a result of this, the textual directives lead the reader into the discovery of ambiguities, discrepancies, paradoxes, contradictions and redundancies. While the reader’s first language knowledge may sometimes be enough to recover the intended meaning, some of these misused or missing directives will result in the reader’s failure to understand (portions of) the text. All poorly written texts, including the specific subset of second language texts, may be regarded as inefficiently self-regulating systems.

Self-Regulating System: First proposed by Wolfgang Iser in The Act of Reading (1978), the concept of the text as a self-regulating cybernetic system was more precisely formulated by Robert De Beaugrande in Text, Discourse and Process (1980). According to De Beaugrande, “The stability of the text as a cybernetic system … is characterized by its connectivities, i.e. unbroken access among the occurring elements of the participating language systems.” In other words, a text will contain “sequential connectivity of grammatical dependencies in the surface text,” “conceptual connectivity” and “planning connectivity” (p. 17). In a study of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Murphy (2005a) extended the concept of the self-regulating textual system to the nineteenth century novel by explaining how a reader might process the discrepancies discovered in the clash of directly quoted character speech. These discrepancies are resolved by means of the conversation monitoring of the narrative voice.

Texture: In Halliday and Hasan’s Cohesion in English (1976), “a text has texture, and this is what distinguishes it from something that is not a text. It derives this texture from that fact that it functions as a unity with respect to its environment” (p. 2). The texture of any text is constituted by the five major cohesive ties: those of reference, substitution, ellipsis, conjunction and lexis.

Emergent Texture: In Murphy (2001), the concept of emergent texture is defined as “the manner in which interlanguage texts gradually extend their use and control of the grammatical means used to establish lexical and textual cohesion” (p. 154). The more refined definition utilized in this chapter is that emergent texture refers to a given text’s inefficient utilization of the full set of grammatical, lexical, and logico-rhetorical ties. In this sense, an analysis of the state of the emergent texture of a second language text is one measure of its distance from a reconfigured first language textualization of the same information.

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