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A corpus-based study of anticipatory it patterns in university student writing: The role of nativeness and student levels
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of English.
2012 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (One Year)), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

The anticipatory it pattern has been found to serve as a means for writers not only to present propositional content in an objective way, but also to achieve a range of different rhetorical purposes. Indeed, its usefulness in academic writing has been confirmed in previous studies (e.g. Thompson, 2009). One of the rhetorical functions of the pattern is as a hedging device. Since it has been shown that appropriate use of hedges and the anticipatory it pattern may pose considerable difficulty for apprentice writers (e.g. Hewings & Hewings, 2002; Hyland & Milton, 1997), a more detailed study of “anticipatory it hedging” would be of particular interest for EAP teaching. The present study aims to investigate university students’ use of the anticipatory it pattern in general and as a hedging device by comparing non-native speaker (NNS) to native speaker (NS) use of the pattern and by investigating the use of the pattern across two NNS student levels. Swedish and British student essays from the Stockholm University Student English Corpus (SUSEC) were investigated for this purpose.

The results from the comparison of the NS and NNS groups show that the NS students used the anticipatory it pattern significantly more frequently. With regards to function, a statistically significant tendency to use the pattern to hedge claims rather than to make strong claims was found in the NS data. The analysis of “anticipatory it-hedges” with regards to modal verb and linking verb usage shows that the NNS students generally made less frequent use of the different types of “anticipatory it-hedges” and relied more heavily on a smaller set of types. The comparison of the two Swedish student levels shows that there was no statistically significant difference in frequency of use of the pattern. The only statistically significant difference found in terms of function was the more frequent use of the pattern to express difficulty found in the first-term student data. Moreover, an analysis of “anticipatory it-hedges” in terms of modal and linking verb usage revealed that no general development in use was found across the student levels. Taken together, the findings of the study would then suggest that nativeness, contrary to what has been reported in previous studies (cf. Römer, 2009), appears to be an important factor along with other factors such as general language proficiency and expertise in academic writing. Then, in orders to help NNS students further develop their proficiency in academic writing, it would seem that greater emphasis ought to be put on teaching students to use the pattern in an appropriate and varied way.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012. , 40 p.
Keyword [en]
Anticipatory it patterns, hedges, non-native speakers of English, native speakers of English, learner levels.
National Category
General Language Studies and Linguistics
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-75289OAI: diva2:515583
2012-04-10, Stockholm University, Stockholm, 09:00 (English)
Humanities, Theology
Available from: 2012-08-27 Created: 2012-04-13 Last updated: 2012-09-11Bibliographically approved

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Larsson, Tove
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Department of English
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