Reference : Bracketing in student writing: its uses (and abuses)
Scientific congresses, symposiums and conference proceedings : Unpublished conference
Arts & humanities : Languages & linguistics
Bracketing in student writing: its uses (and abuses)
Deroey, Katrien mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE) > Identités, Politiques, Sociétés, Espaces (IPSE) >]
10th International Corpus Linguistics Conference
from 22-07-2019 to 26-07-2019
[en] corpus linguistics ; parentheticals ; academic writing ; systemic functional linguistics ; bracketing ; disciplinary variation
[en] This paper reports on the use of bracketed text in a large corpus of student writing. The function of bracketing has been neglected in academic writing research and coursebooks. Yet it is closely related to important text construction issues such as information packaging, coherence, clarity, conciseness, intertextual framing and sourcing. With a view to informing academic writing description and instruction, we examined the relationship between bracketed text and its cotext in a wide variety of disciplines and assignment genres. The relationships are described using an adaptation of Halliday and Matthiessen’s (2014) logico-semantic framework of clausal relationships.
To better understand and teach the use of this information packaging feature, we studied the relationship between bracketed text and its cotext in the British Academic Written English (BAWE) corpus of high-graded student assignments. Using Sketch Engine and corpus query language, we extracted a random sample of 2000 instances of bracketing in running text only. This subcorpus is composed of 500 instances from each of the four main disciplinary groupings (Arts and Humanities, Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Social Sciences) and contains instances from most of the BAWE assignment genres. The concordances were imported into a database table in FileMaker Pro. This database programme facilitates coding by limiting choices depending on previous selections and thus guiding the coder through the analytical steps. For the analysis of the data, it offers flexibility for grouping records and aggregating results on different levels.
The logico-semantic framework used in systemic functional linguistics to classify the relationships between clauses (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2014) served as our starting point to classify the relationships between bracketed text and cotext. This framework distinguishes two fundamental logico-semantic relationships: expansion, which ‘relates phenomena as being of the same order of experience’, and projection, which ‘relates phenomena of one order of experience (the processes of saying and thinking) to phenomena of a higher order (semiotic phenomena – what people say and think)’ (p. 443). The latter contains three subtypes: elaboration (‘one clause elaborates on the meaning of another by further specifying or describing it’) (p. 461), enhancement (‘one clause (or subcomplex) enhances the meaning of another by qualifying it) (p. 476) and extension (‘one clause extends the meaning of another by adding something new to it’) (p. 471).
This framework was refined and expanded through several stages of interrating and discussion in order to reflect our findings. We first analysed a random sample of 1000 instances from the whole BAWE corpus. With the resulting adapted classificatory framework we next independently analysed a quarter of our subcorpus of 2000 concordances. This led to further refinement of the framework and classificatory criteria. Finally, we each analyzed a different set of concordances from the disciplinary groupings. Disciplinary informants were consulted where needed.
Our analysis revealed four major logico-semantic relationships between the bracketed text and cotext: in addition to Halliday & Matthiessen’s (2014) projection (1) and expansion (elaboration (2), enhancement (3, 4), extension (5)), we identified bracketed text functioning as intratextual reference (6) and code (7). The few instances that could not be confidently classified were assigned to a ‘hard to classify’ category.
(1) However the anticipated number of children per woman in Europe and the USA is still near or above two (Bongaarts, 1999), showing that many are still having children.
(2) Many of these injures are healed fractures and breaks occurring around the torso (upper body).
(3) It is dated to the reign of Nectanebo II (360-343 BC).
(4) Acetanilide (4.78g, 35.4 mmol) was dissolved in cold, glacial acetic acid (25ml, 437.1 mmol)
(5) Parmenides decision to include a cosmology that he has already (apparently) proved to be flawed is an interesting one to say the least.
(6) This is called circular polarization (figure 5) and is the natural state of white light.
(7) Stronger field ligands such as (PPh 3) and (NCS) increase the splitting.
Projection was –perhaps not surprisingly- the most common relationship by far, although markedly less frequent in the Physical Sciences. Expansion was mainly achieved through elaboration, with restatements (2) and abbreviations predominating. Enhancement relationships were mostly temporal locations (3) or measurements (4). Extension was relatively rare (5). Intratextual references (6) took various forms, such as figures, appendices, equations, and line numbers for quoted text. Bracketed code was a marked feature of the Physical Sciences, occurring in formulae and enclosing symbols or abbreviations (7).
Overall, students’ use of bracketed text appeared to reflect disciplinary conventions and reflected the genre goals of assignments by demonstrating knowledge, understanding and appropriate source use. Contrary to expectations, instances where the bracketed text seemed superfluous or adversely affected coherence were rare. We conclude by discussing what these findings mean for academic writing instruction.
Halliday, M. A. K., & Matthiessen, C. M. I. M. (2014). Halliday's introduction to functional grammar (4 ed.). Abingdon: Routledge.
Researchers ; Professionals ; Students

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