Carnegie Mellon University

Contrastive Rhetoric in American English and Chinese: A Study of Intertextual Knowledge in Different Discourses

Author: Joel Bloch
Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 1998

Contrastive rhetoric has endured for over thirty years as a paradigm for discussing second language composition. Contrastive rhetoric is based on two fundamental assumptions: (1) rhetorical forms of language can be transferred from a writer's first language (L1) to a writer's second language (L2), and (2) these rhetorical forms are different because of differences in rhetorical tradition. Since the initial publication of an article by Robert Kaplan in 1966, there has been an ongoing debate in the field of ESL composition over the significance of contrastive rhetoric. In this dissertation, I examine the assumptions an d controversies underlying contrastive rhetoric and attempt to forge a middle ground between those who have championed contrastive rhetoric and those who have opposed it. The dissertation is divided into three parts. Part 1 examines the theoretical basis for contrastive rhetoric and shows how establishing a middle ground position can guide research to better account for how contrastive rhetoric may be both a positive and negative influence on the writer's L2. Part 2 focuses on one of the key elements in the teaching of academic writing, intertextuality, which refers here to the incorporation of previously published texts into the creation of a new text. I examine possible similarities and differences in the use of these texts in Chinese-language and English-language academic texts, using two key factors: the date of the text and the rhetoric function of the text. The results show a complex series of relationships where in areas there is great similarity and in some areas there is great difference. In Part 3, I explore the implications of these results in terms of the long tradition of Chinese rhetoric and conclude this section with a discussion of what rhetorical strategies Chinese writers feel they have learnt and how they feel these strategies compare across languages. In conclusion I discuss the pedagogical and methodological implications of this research and offer some suggestions for future research.