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What can the British Academic Written English (BAWE) Corpus tell us about student development? Signe Ebeling Maria Leedham Outline Introducing the British Academic Written English Corpus Case studies Variation within and across disciplines (lexical density)

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what can the british academic written english bawe corpus tell us about student development

What can theBritish Academic Written English(BAWE)Corpustell us about student development?

Signe Ebeling

Maria Leedham

outline
Outline
  • Introducing the British Academic Written English Corpus
  • Case studies
      • Variation within and across disciplines (lexical density)
      • Individual development (connectors)
  • Concluding remarks

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

the project
The Project
  • 'An investigation of genres of assessed writing in British Higher Education' - 3 year ESRC-funded project
  • Collaboration between Oxford Brookes, Warwick and Reading Universities
  • End of project – December 2007
  • The BAWE Corpus
      • Assessed written assignments (student)
      • Contextual data (student)
      • Interview data (tutor)

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

what is the bawe corpus
What is the BAWE Corpus?
  • Collection of 3,000-3,500 student assignments at UG and Masters level – all at 2:1 level (60% +)
  • Four disciplinary groupings: Arts & Humanities, Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Social Sciences
  • Aims to provide a database for use by researchers who are investigating the nature of academic writing, and also by tutors who are designing teaching and assessment materials for their students

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

case study 1 variation within and across disciplines
Case Study 1Variation within and across disciplines

Measuring lexical density

"Statistics can be used to estimate not only the frequency of use of specific words, but also to estimate the size of the vocabulary from which they are drawn; hence, statistical evidence is relevant to both style and competence." (Youmans 1990: 584)

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

type token comparison
Type-token comparison
  • Each word (token) in a text is counted
  • Each new vocabulary word (type) is recorded
  • Total number of tokens is computed along with the total number of types accumulated at some specific point in the text
  • Assignments from 4 different disciplinary groupings (AH, SS, LS, PS);
  • 5 assignments from 1st year UG from each discipline;
  • 5 assignments from 3rd year UG from each discipline;
  • Recorded the number of types accumulated after 2000 tokens;
  • Calculated the mean number of types in each year of study for each discipline

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

type token comparison across 4 ug disciplines
Type-token comparison across 4 UG disciplines
  • Is the discipline (English) more language/vocabulary conscious?
  • Does it encourage students to use more inventive language?
  • Is there an element of creative writing involved?
  • Also, English studies students may include more quotations from primary and secondary sources.

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

bawe and other studies compared
BAWE and other studies compared

* 51 passages from 12 categories (Kucera & Francis as reported in Youmans)

** 8 samples (Kucera & Francis as reported in Youmans)

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

summary
Summary
  • Difference within disciplines in the size of vocabulary between 1st year and 3rd year students
  • Similar difference across disciplines, with English Studies using a more varied vocabulary
  • The BAWE material coincides well with what has been noted for academic writing in other studies when it comes to lexical density

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

case study 2 individual development connectors
Case Study 2: Individual development (connectors)
  • WS Tools showed that in 1st year English Studies essays “however” is the most overused non subject-specific word compared to 3rd year English Studies essays.
  • This prompted us to focus on individual development in connector usage from year 1 to year 3 and compare this with published academic usage.
  • We looked at three similar students (UG 3, English Studies, female, early 20s) – DA, EM and EL.
  • When the corpus is complete we can compare use of connectors between English Studies and other disciplines.

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

connectors
Connectors
  • Quirk et al, Biber et al, and others define connectors slightly differently.
  • We are using the list of connectors in the academic part of ICE-GB (International Corpus of English, British sub-corpus), in line with Bolton et al. 2005.
  • ‘Connectors’ thus includes conjuncts such as ‘however’ and co-ordinators such as ‘or’.
  • We can compare the BAWE English students’ use of connectors with the academic ICE-GB use.

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

function of connectors
Function of Connectors
  • “The primary function of linking adverbials is to state the speaker/writer’s perception of the relationship between two units of discourse. “ (Biber et al. 1999:875)
  • “Their [connectors’] main function is to facilitate the interpretation of underlying relations in discourse and to resolve potential ambiguities. Relations that can be inferred from the text do not have to be marked explicitly, which means that a high frequency of connectors in a text does not necessarily improve its cohesive quality.” (Altenberg & Tapper 1998: 80)
  • “Conjuncts can also be overused. In theory we can insert as many as we like into a sentence. In practice, this gives a rambling impression it is wise to avoid:

And so, to sum up, in other words, I think that, all in all, we should nevertheless look to the future…” (Crystal 2004:290)

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

comparison of bawe and ice connector usage
Comparison of BAWE and ICE connector usage
  • English Studies students seem to overuse connectors compared to all the other groups. These students all achieved 65% or higher for their essays.
  • 616 sentences in BAWE-Eng corpus vs. 4500 in ICE-GB

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

top five connectors used in bawe eng
Top Five Connectors used in BAWE-Eng

however

indeed

so

yet

thus

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

em s overuse of indeed
EM's overuse of 'indeed'

Indeed, the religious significance of his name can easily be assimilated to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Accordingly, his employment as a carpenter is reminiscent of Jesus’ vocation. Similarly, his brother Seth is an insider due to his obliging ‘ benignant’ behaviour, but Eliot is keen to highlight his inferiority in comparison to the muscular Adam by denoting the prominent, which according to the science of phrenology that was introduced to Eliot by George Combes, is a sign of weakness in a man. Their mother, Lisbeth, at times alienates the readers through her constant frettingbut this is overwhelmed by her enduring,’ which links her to nature and therefore the community. Accordingly, her constant residence inside the family home consolidates her status as an insider, as she never strays outside to compromise or transgress her allotted social role.

Eliot juxtaposes Adam’s moral integrity with Arthur’s fickle nature to establish his liminal status. Indeed, the religious connotations implicit in Adam’s name suggest that Arthur’s betrayal of Adam is equivalent to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. This suggestion is supported by Arthur’s ‘absence’ at Thias Bede’s funeral. In his affair with Hetty, Arthur is forced to meet her, neither on a farm nor on an estate, but on ‘the Chase,’ a liminal place where they are free to explore their erotic desires without the condemnation of the community. Indeed, Arthur must undergo a symbolic death during his fight with Adam in the grove, to emerge understood but not forgiven by the community, for Eliot makes it clear to the reader that ‘suggesting that Arthur is responsible for his actions and no malign fate is at work. Valentine Cunningham agrees that ‘Here Eliot is seen to be exploring contemporary thoughts on Determinism within her text. Indeed, Adam Bede was published the same year as Charles Darwin’s influential bestseller The Origin of the Species.

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

overuse of connectors
Overuse of connectors?
  • “overuse of connectors… is a prominent feature of students’ writing generally” (Bolton et al, 2005)
  • students “use a considerably smaller number of different connectors in their writing than professional academics. As a result, … (students) tend to overuse those connectors within their repertoire”. (Bolton et al, 2005)
  • “connector usage… is closely connected with the individual writer’s style and compositional technique” (Altenberg and Tapper 1998:83)

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

summary20
Summary

Findings

  • BAWE English studies students use more connectors than published academics
  • However they also use a more limited range of connectors
  • Individual use of connectors varies in both number and range

Possible reasons

  • Connectors are salient features for students
  • Students are writing to display their knowledge to tutors
  • Maybe English Studies essays differ from others in the use of connectors?

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

concluding remarks
Concluding Remarks
  • The BAWE corpus will provide a unique collection of early 21st century student texts
  • The final corpus will contain over 3000 assignments with over 8 million words
  • Far greater comparisons will be possible both between disciplines and between year groups
  • This will be of use to subject academics, researchers and teachers of writing

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE

references
References
  • Altenberg, B. and M. Tapper. 1998. The use of adverbial connectors in advanced Swedish learners' written English. In S. Granger (Ed.), Learner English on Computer. London: Addison Wesley Longman. 80-93
  • Biber, D., S. Johansson, G. Leech, S. Conrad, and E. Finegan. 1999. Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Harlow: Longman.
  • Bolton, K., G. Nelson and J. Hung. 2002. A corpus-based study of connectors in student writing. Research from the International Corpus of English in Hong Kong (ICE-HK). International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 7(2), 165-182.
  • Crystal, D. 2004. Making Sense of Grammar. Harlow: Pearson Longman.
  • Youmans, G. 1990. Measuring lexical style and competence: The Type Token Vocabulary Curve. Style, 24, 584-599.

Websites

  • British Academic Written English Corpus

http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/go/bawe

  • International Corpus of English

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/english-usage/ice/

  • Vocabulary Management Profiles

http://www.missouri.edu/~youmansc/vmp/index.shtml

Westminster Institute of Education BAWE