English-Speaking Cultures – Englische Sprachwissenschaft

Research foci in Bremen

Academic writing and English for Academic Purposes (EAP)

What is academic writing?

Academic writing can generally be understood as any writing that fulfills a purpose of education in a college or university, either in response to an academic assignment, or professional writing produced by trained academics (teachers and researchers) for presentations and publications. Academic writing thus represents structured research written by scholars for other scholars (with all university writers being scholars in this context), addresses topic-based research questions of interest to anyone who is seeking factually-based, objectively-presented information on a particular topic, and its objective is the creation of new knowledge.

Academic writing is among the most difficult registers for language users to master. Given the high cognitive demand placed on participants and the fact that exposure and use are generally limited to higher levels of education, it is worth emphasizing that even many native speakers of English never achieve mastery in academic writing. For native and non-native users alike, then, academic writing skills represent the most advanced levels of writing proficiency. Even though secondary school educated students may have relatively little awareness of academic writing conventions, those who hope to succeed in tertiary education and beyond will need to learn to effectively communicate using this register.

What is English for Academic Purposes?

English for Academic Purposes can be understood as the process of teaching of English with the specific aim of helping learners to study, conduct research or teach in that language. At the same time, it is a separate field of inquiry that focuses on the use of English within the academic setting. The steady growth of interest in the field since 1970s has resulted in establishment of two journals, English for Specific Purposesand the Journal of English for Academic Purposes.

The variety of topics that has been covered has ranged from EAP teaching methodologies and practices, teacher training and language assessment to different forms of linguistic analysis (e.g. discourse and genre analyses, corpus-based studies, etc.) of spoken and written English used by scholars and students at different levels of academic literacy. Recently, corpus-based research into EAP as a specific situation of language use has revealed that the register of (English) academic writing is characterised by a specific kind of vocabulary on the one hand and by certain kinds of grammatical structures on the other hand. It has been also found to display a certain degree of variation, e.g. discipline- and genre-based variation in the form and use of lexico-grammatical structures. However, there is little information on possible variation across sub-registers (argumentative vs. informative styles) of writing produced by novice English academic writers, both native English speakers and learners.

Research carried out at Bremen primarily focuses on corpus-based research of actual language use as represented in domain-specific language corpora, such as the Corpus of Academic Learner English (CALE) which is currently under compilation. A recently launched research project "The Expression of Contrast in L1 and L2 Writing: A Corpus Study of Lexico-Grammatical Variation" is being carried out within the larger project Lexico-grammatical variation in advanced learner varieties and focuses on variation in the writing of advanced learners of English and English native speakers. One of the aims of the project is to explore patterns and determinants of variation in the writing of two groups of novice academic writers: German advanced learners of English and English native speakers with the emphasis on L2 written discourse. It additionally aims at a detailed description of the rhetorical function of contrast in L2 writing, i.e. of its

  1. communicative aim(s) in novice written academic English, e.g.
  2. creating coherence in discourse
  3. linguistic means of expression, e.g. the use of
    • it-clefts:
      Certainly, every individual has the right - which should be invulnerable - to refuse to carry a weapon. But it is often these ideologists of peace who denounce all the others that do not share their beliefs.<ICLE-GE-AUG-0037.1>
    • discourse markers (e.g. however):
      In these examples try –ing always follows a modal verb such as ought and might, whereas try to inf. does not. However, as my research shows, that is not always the case. <CALE-RPA.G.MZ-002>

The major research questions of the project are as follows:

  1. What are the communicative aims of contrast in German L2 written discourse?
  2. What are the linguistic means of expressing contrast used by German learners of English?
  3. What are the patterns and determinants of variation found in the written discourse of novice academic writers as to expression of contrast?
  4. What are the specific areas that remain problematic for German advanced learners of English as to the use and expression of contrast?

The working hypothesis supported by results of the preliminary study is that novice academic writing will display variation, where language proficiency and genre will be two of the important variables that affect language use.

Relevant publications

Callies, M., E. Zaytseva(2013). "The Corpus of Academic Learner English (CALE) – A new resource for the assessment of writing proficiency in the academic register". Dutch Journal of Applied Linguistics 2(1), 126-132.

Callies, M., E. Zaytseva(2013). "The Corpus of Academic Learner English (CALE) – A new resource for the study and assessment of advanced language proficiency", in Granger, S., G. Gilquin & F. Meunier (eds.), Twenty Years of Learner Corpus Research: Looking back, Moving ahead (Corpora and Language in Use - Proceedings Vol. 1). Louvain-la-Neuve: Presses universitaires de Louvain, 49-59.

Callies, M., E. Zaytseva & R. Present-Thomas (2013), "Writing Assessment in Higher Education: Making the framework work", Dutch Journal of Applied Linguistics2(1), 1-15.

Callies, M. & E. Zaytseva (to appear), "The Corpus of Academic Learner English (CALE) – A new resource for a corpus approach to the assessment of advanced language proficiency", in R. Present-Thomas & B. Weltens (eds.) Writing Assessment in Higher Education. Making the framework work. Special issue of the Dutch Journal of Applied Linguistics.

Zaytseva, E. (2011), "Register, genre, rhetorical functions: Variation in English native-speaker and learner writing", in Hedeland, H., Th. Schmidt & K. Wörner (eds.), Multilingual Resources and Multilingual Applications (Hamburg Working Papers in Multilingualism B 96), 239-242.