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A study of different discourse patterns preferred by native -English and native -Chinese graduate students in written English

Ann Yumin Meng, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The purpose of this study was to investigate comparatively the discourse patterns in written English between native English and Chinese-English speakers. Two main perspectives related to the roots of different discourse patterns were examined. One perspective, proposed by Young and others, suggests that the native Chinese speakers may transfer their culturally valued discourse patterns from Chinese into English. The other perspective, proposed by Tyler and others, suggests that the ‘unexpected’ Chinese-English discourse patterns may be due to accumulated linguistic miscues, such as grammar, syntax and lexicon errors. In this study, it is proposed that a discourse pattern may be guided by the cognitive strategies that developed from early socialization and such cognitive strategies may be independent of one's language proficiency. To test this proposal, a Native Chinese sample with advanced English proficiency was compared with a comparable highly educated Native English sample, to see if discourse pattern differences emerged despite advanced linguistic proficiency. Nine subjects, in each group, were selected from native English and Chinese-English speaking, advanced graduated students, all of whom displayed advanced English proficiency. Subjects responded in written English paragraphs to a common projective set of six ordered pictures. The written samples were analyzed in three ways: grammar and spelling check, comparison on four formal linguistic aspects, and the examination and comparison of six discourse features within and between the two groups. The results indicate no significant differences on grammar and spelling and similar linguistic competence between the two groups. All six discourse features showed a significantly consistent pattern within the Chinese-English group, while four of the six were significant within the Native-English group. The pattern of the six features, as a whole, showed a significantly consistent pattern within each group and a significant difference between the two groups. It was concluded that discourse patterns emerge independent of one's language proficiency. These contrasting discourse patterns were discussed with respect to the influence of divergent cultural values and early socialization. Further studies are needed to further identify the roots and stability of these cross cultural discourse patterns.

Subject Area

Rhetoric|Composition|Developmental psychology|Bilingual education|Multicultural education

Recommended Citation

Meng, Ann Yumin, "A study of different discourse patterns preferred by native -English and native -Chinese graduate students in written English" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9950185.