Journal of Second Language Writing


Volume 10 (2001)
[ No. 1/2 | No. 3 | No. 4 ]

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Volume 10, Number 1/2 (2001)

Special Issue: Voice in L2 Writing
Guest Editors: Diane Belcher and Alan Hirvela

I am How I Sound: Voice as Self-Representation in L2 Writing

Lancaster University, UK
Instituto Technologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, Mexico

One of the characteristics of writing is that it does not carry the phonetic and prosodic qualities of speech. We will argue, however, that the lexical, syntactic, organizational, and even the material aspects of writing construct identity just as much as do the phonetic and prosodic aspects of speech, and thus writing always conveys a representation of the self of the writer. In this sense, "voice" is not an optional extra: All writing contains "voice" in the Bakhtinian sense of reaccentuating "voice types," which locate their users culturally and historically. Writers may, through the linguistic and other resources they choose to draw upon in their writing, ventriloquate an environmentally aware voice, a progressive educator voice, a sexist voice, a positivist voice, a self-assured voice, a deferential voice, a committed-to-plain-English voice, or a combination of an infinite number of such voices. We will illustrate this argument with examples from the writing of six graduate students studying in British universities. We will recommend that an L2 writing pedagogy that raises critical awareness about voice can help learners maintain control over the personal and cultural identity they are projecting in their writing.

Voice in Japanese Written Discourse: Implications for Second Language Writing

University of New Hampshire, USA

While the study of written discourse that informs the field of L2 writing has generated many insights into its generalizable features, individual variations have largely been neglected. This article explores the possibilities for the study of divergent aspects of discursive practices by focusing on the notion of voice and considers the implications for L2 writing research and instruction. I begin by examining recent critiques of the notion of voice that emphasize its strong association with the ideology of individualism and argue that the notion of voice is not exclusively tied to individualism. To demonstrate that the practice of constructing voice is not entirely foreign to so-called "collectivist cultures," I present evidence of voice in Japanese electronic discourse, focusing on how voice is constructed through the use of language-specific features. Based on this analysis, I argue that the difficulties that Japanese students face in constructing voice in English written discourse are due not to its incompatibility with their cultural orientation but to the different ways in which voice is constructed in Japanese and English as well as the lack of familiarity with the strategies available in English.

Voices in Text, Mind, and Society: Sociohistoric Accounts of Discourse Acquisition and Use

University of Illinois, USA

Voice is often represented either expressively as personal and individualistic or socially as a discourse system. Drawing on sociohistoric theory (particularly Voloshinov and Bakhtin), in this article, I argue for a third view in which voice is simultaneously personal and social because discourse is understood as fundamentally historical, situated, and indexical. Specifically, I explore three key ways that voice may be understood from this perspective: voice as a typification linked to social identities; voice as the reenvoicing of others' words in texts (oral and written) through processes of repetition and presupposition; and finally, voice as it is linked to the situated production of persons and social formations. All three are central to discourse acquisition and use in general and to literate activity in particular. Finally, I conclude by considering the implications of this theoretical perspective for second language writing pedagogies.

Coming Back to Voice: The Multiple Voices and Identities of Mature Multilingual Writers

The Ohio State University, USA

Compositionists often speak of the need to help students acquire a voice or identity in their writing. This interest in teaching voice is understandable but also problematic. Satisfactorily defining "voice," especially from a second language (L2) point of view, is one of those problems. Another is a reliance on various conceptualizations that privilege a "Western" or a romantic or individualistic notion of voice in classroom situations where many students do not share such a background. In this paper, we use three case studies to address a third problem: a tendency in L2 writing instruction and research to overlook the voices, or identities, already possessed by L2 writers, many of whom at the graduate level bring a history of success as professional/academic writers in their native language and culture to the L2 writing classroom. We examine the role voice can play not as a teaching device but rather as a means by which to investigate and understand the voice-related issues these mature writers encounter in L2 contexts.

Volume 10, Number 3 (2001)

What Develops Along with the Development of Second Language Writing? Exploring the "By-products"

Tel Aviv University, Israel
Bar-Ilan University, Israel
Tel Aviv University, Israel

The intuitive notion that students undergo unexpected yet profound changes as participants in writing courses has been shared by many writing teachers but, to our knowledge, has not been systematically examined. This exploratory study investigates predicted and unpredicted changes that learners undergo as they develop writing skills in EFL Academic Writing courses. These changes--considered to develop along with the writing skills--were examined quantitatively and qualitatively in an earlier study (Katznelson, Perpignan, & Rubin, 1999). Writing courses as agents of transformation: an exploratory study [CD-ROM. Proceedings of the TDTR4 IATEFL Conference, Leuven, Belgium.]. In the present study, we report on the qualitative data elicited from learners' self-reports which yielded three perceived categories of changes: outcomes in writing in English, outcomes in writing in general, and our major category--"by-products" of writing courses, some of which expressed learners' perceptions of intrapersonal and interpersonal development. Many of these perceived outcomes corresponded to the highest of six levels of learning outcomes defined by Marton, Dall'Alba, and Beaty (1989) as "changing as a person." These findings may lead to a better understanding of the nature and range of changes learners undergo in Academic Writing courses, providing a basis for reviewing the aims of such courses and leading us to reexamine the overall educational value of the teaching of Academic Writing to university students.

Error Feedback in L2 Writing Classes: How Explicit Does It Need to Be?

California State University, Sacramento, USA

Though controversy continues as to whether error feedback helps L2 student writers to improve the accuracy and overall quality of their writing (Ferris, 1999a; Truscott, 1996; Truscott, 1999), most studies on error correction in L2 writing classes have provided evidence that students who receive error feedback from teachers improve in accuracy over time. One issue which has not been adequately examined is how explicit error feedback should be in order to help students to self-edit their texts. In this experimental classroom study, we investigated 72 university ESL students' differing abilities to self-edit their texts across three feedback conditions: (1) errors marked with codes from five different error categories; (2) errors in the same five categories underlined but not otherwise marked or labeled; (3) no feedback at all. We found that both groups who received feedback significantly outperformed the no-feedback group on the self-editing task but that there were no significant differences between the "codes" and "no-codes" groups. We conclude that less explicit feedback seemed to help these students to self-edit just as well as corrections coded by error type.

Sugaring the Pill: Praise and Criticism in Written Feedback

University of Hong Kong, China
City University of Hong Kong, China

This paper offers a detailed text analysis of the written feedback given by two teachers to ESL students over a complete proficiency course. We consider this feedback in terms of its functions as praise, criticism, and suggestions. Praise was the most frequently employed function in the feedback of these two teachers, but this was often used to soften criticisms and suggestions rather than simply responding to good work. Many of the criticisms and suggestions were also mitigated by the use of hedging devices, question forms, and personal attribution. We explore the motivations for these mitigations through teacher interviews and think-aloud protocols and examine cases where students failed to understand their teachers' comments due to their indirectness. While recognising the importance of mitigation strategies as a means of minimising the force of criticisms and enhancing effective teacher-student relationships, we also point out that such indirectness carries the very real potential for incomprehension and miscommunication.

Volume 10, Number 4 (2001)

The Effect of Corrections and Commentaries on the Journal Writing Accuracy of Minority- and Majority-Language Students

McGill University and Concordia University, Canada

This classroom-based experimental study examined the effect of differential feedback (corrections, commentaries, and combination of the two) on the journal writing accuracy of minority- and majority-language students being educated in the same classrooms. Journal writing samples were collected from 112 students (46 minority-language and 66 majority-language) over a period of four months in four Grade 5 classrooms where the language of instruction is French. The two student groups were randomly assigned to feedback conditions, and feedback to writing was provided weekly. Extensive classroom observations were carried out with the aim of determining the pedagogical orientation of the French language arts lessons; individual interviews were conducted to tap the extent to which students attended to their feedback. For both student groups, results indicate no significant difference in accuracy due to feedback conditions. Outcomes are discussed in light of students' attentiveness to feedback and the pedagogical context of the study.

Interaction and Feedback in Mixed Peer Response Groups

University of South Florida, USA

With the growing number of foreign students on university campuses in the Untied States, mixed peer response groups consisting of both native English speakers and English as a Second Language (ESL) students are often seen in mainstream composition classes. The study reported here examined interaction and feedback in mixed peer response groups by inspecting participants' turn-taking behaviors, language functions performed during peer response, and written feedback on each other's writing. Data were collected from three mixed peer response groups, each with a non-native speaker and two or three native speakers. Transcripts of student discussion of peer writing as well as peer response sheets with students' written comments were analyzed. Findings indicate that the non-native speakers as a group took fewer turns and produced fewer language functions during oral discussion of writing, particularly when they were performing the writer role, but they were comparable to the native speakers with respect to the number of global comments provided in writing.

Exploring the Role of Noticing in a Three-Stage Second Language Writing Task


Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Canada

The importance of noticing as a cognitive process in second language (L2) acquisition has been increasingly recognized by applied linguistics researchers. However, issues concerning how noticing is related to composing and subsequent feedback processing, and what impact such noticing has on L2 writing improvement, need to be addressed. We conducted a case study to investigate these issues with two Mandarin background adult English-as-a-second language (ESL) learners. The study documents the relationship of noticing, both in the composing stage (Stage 1) and the reformulation stage (Stage 2, where learners compare their own text to a reformulated version of it), to the improvement of the written product in the posttest (Stage 3) of a three stage writing task. The findings suggest that while composing and reformulation promote noticing, the quality of noticing, which relates directly to L2 writing improvement, is different from learners with different levels of L2 proficiency. We argue that while promoting noticing is important, promoting the quality of that noticing is a more important issue to be addressed in L2 writing pedagogy. 


On Second Language Writing