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Using Rhetorical Structure Theory for contrastive analysis at the micro and macro levels of discourse: An investigation of Japanese EFL learners’ and native-English speakers’ writing

On March 12th, Jonathan Brown succesfully defended his doctoral thesis and graduated. The Leiden University Centre for Linguistics congratulates Jonathan on this great result.

Jonathan Brown
12 March 2019
Leiden University Repository


This study compared the features of Japanese EFL learners' (JEFL) English texts (N = 22), with those written by native speakers (N = 22). Texts in each corpus were parsed into elementary discourse units (EDUs) using the Syntactic and Lexical-based Discourse Segmenter and were then analyzed within the Rhetorical Structure Theory (RST) framework. Yule’s difference coefficient was applied to assess the difference in the relative frequency of a relation in the two corpora. Wilcoxon signed-rank tests were applied to determine if there was a statistical significance between the two corpora’s relation frequencies. Three key anamolies were revealed from the contrastive analysis: 1) Subject Matter (SM) relations were used less frequently by the JEFLs and the difference was significant (p = 0.047); 2) JEFL writers regularly struggled to match the content of a nucleus with its function, often forming what I have termed “artificial nuclei;” 3) a number of relations were overrepresented in the JEFL corpus, particularly those of weak coherence. Together these anomalies result in a violation of basic communication principles that could plausibly account for Japanese English writing often being regarded as incoherent.

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