Date of Award

6-9-2010

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Michael M. Williamson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Jeannine Fontaine, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Gary Dean, Ph.D.

Abstract

The purpose of the study was to investigate whether negative first language transfer could be implicated as the etiology of the ESL writing problems of Arab advanced writers and thus to contribute to the existing body of knowledge about the validity of the contrastive rhetoric hypothesis in light of issues in the ontological, epistemological, and axiological underpinnings of contrastive rhetoric. To do so, the study analyzed and compared the ESL and Arabic L1 writing of 30 native Arabic speakers and the English L1 writing of 30 native English speakers on the same persuasive writing task. Rhetorical performance of each participant was quantified by use of established, valid, and reliable measures of select rhetorical dimensions of persuasive writing developed by Connor (1999) and Connor and Lauer (1985; 1988). The rhetorical dimensions investigated were argument superstructure, Toulmin‘s informal reasoning, rational, credibility and affective appeals, and persuasive adaptiveness. The study also administered a language history questionnaire that collected some information about the participants‘ demographics and educational background. Crosstabulations of data tallied from the language history questionnaire indicated that the two participant groups were of adequate tertium comparationis. Multiple regression analysis of the participants‘ scores on the analytic measures of rhetorical performance against their holistic scores confirmed the validity of the analytic measures. Multiple discriminant analysis and ANOVA of the data confirmed the assumption of the contrastive rhetoric hypothesis that NASs exhibited similar rhetorical problems in their ESL and AL1 persuasive writing. However, the analysis could not predict the participants‘ language/cultural background based on their rhetorical performance. Furthermore, the analysis did not find any significant differences in the rhetorical performance of advanced NES and NAS writers regardless of the language of composing of the Arab participants. On the contrary, there was much greater within-group than between-group variance in the rhetorical performance of the participants. Results of the study cast serious doubts on the validity of the contrastive rhetoric hypothesis and suggested that other individual, contextual, and/or situational variables play a more significant role in the writers‘ rhetorical performance than native language background does.

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