Jeff Collins-Department of English - Carnegie Mellon University

Variations in Written English: Characterizing the Rhetorical Language Choices in the Brown Corpus of Texts

Author: Jeff Collins
Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 2003

Jeff Collins's dissertation, "Variations in Written English: Characterizing the Rhetorical Language Choices in the Brown Corpus of Texts," explored an aspect of rhetorical invention by analyzing the micro-rhetorical decisions of authors in two 500-text corpora of professional writing samples (randomly compiled to reflect variation across 15 genres of written English). Using statistical analyses, the study demonstrated that the authors of the corpora texts met their rhetorical challenges, in part, by altering their usage of a set of linguistic phenomena described by a new theory of micro-rhetorical priming (Kaufer, Butler, Ishizaki, Collins, In Press). Based upon a qualitative discourse analysis, five language dimensions are presented to describe the ways the authors met the writing challenges across the various genres. The statistical evidence, both exploratory and confirmatory, suggests that writers of the corpora texts controlled for variation along these five language dimensions in effecting their textual designs. The implications are that these five dimensions may mark fundamental rhetorical "cut points" in written English, functioning as a hidden meso-layer linking micro decisions of rhetoric and broader rhetorical plans.