COLLEGE ESSAY-WRITING: A CORPUS-BASED ANALYSIS
Teodora Popescu“1 Decembrie 1918” University of Alba Iulia
Starting with the 70’s, Error Analysis (EA) became a scientific method in its ownright, owing a lot to the research done by Corder (1967), Richards (1971) and Selinker (1972), who identified different aspects of the second/foreign language learners’ ownlanguage system, which is neither the L1 (mother tongue), nor the L2 (second/foreignlanguage). The essential shift that their studies brought about in linguistics is areassessment of the importance of errors made by ESL/EFL learners. Therefore, accordingto Corder (1967), a learner’s errors are not random, but systematic (unsystematic errorsoccur in one’s native language) and they are not negative or interfering with learning theTarget Language, but on the contrary, they represent a necessary positive, facilitativefactor, indispensable to the learning process, highly indicative of individual learner strategies. Further on, Richards (1971) identified three types of errors: a) interferenceerrors generated by L1 transfer; b) intralingual errors which result from incorrect,incomplete or overgeneralised) application of language rules; c) developmental errorscaused by the construction of faulty hypotheses in L2.By the same token, Selinker (1972, and more recently, 1992) elaborated on thetheory of interlanguage, by which we understand a third language, with its own lexicon,grammar and discourse structure, phonological traits, etc. The basic processes throughwhich interlanguage is created are: language transfer (negative transfer, positive transfer,avoidance, and overuse), overgeneralization (at phonetic, grammatical, lexical, discourselevel) and simplification (both syntactic and semantic).This process-oriented approach to error-analysis (investigation into the reasons whylanguage errors are made, and learners’ active strategies) has allowed for the adoption of alearning-based perspective. It follows that teachers now view errors as necessary stages inall language learning, as the product of intelligent cognitive strategies, hence as potentiallyuseful indicators of what processes the student is using.In our endeavour to investigate students’ errors occurring in essay-writing, we firsttried to identify and categorise these mistakes, and further on we attempted to explore thereasons why they might have come about. In order to ascertain learners’ writingcompetence (in L2), we analysed learner errors from a linguistic perspective: (spelling – partly accounting for phonetic inaccuracies, morphological, syntactic, collocational anddiscursive – in terms of non-achieving coherence and cohesion). The approach we adoptedwas one provided by electronic tools of concordancing software.
2. Corpus Linguistics
The term corpus, derived from the Latin word for body, was first encountered in the6th century to refer to a collection of legal texts,
Corpus Juris Civilis
(Francis 1992: 17).The term corpus has preserved this initial meaning, i.e. a body of text; nevertheless thisdefinition is not entirely satisfactory for corpus linguists. According to one of the fivedefinitions provided by the Oxford English Dictionary, a corpus is ‘the body of written or spoken material upon which a linguistic analysis is based’. It results that a corpus is not just a collection of texts; it represents in fact ‘a collection of texts assumed to berepresentative of a given language, dialect, or other subset of a language, to be used for linguistic analysis’ (Francis 1982: 7 apud Francis 1992: 17). Furthermore, Francis (1992)mentions three main areas in which corpora have traditionally been used: lexicographical