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Shell nouns as cohesive

devices in published and


ESL student writing
Rahime Nur Aktas, Viviana Cortes*
Department of English
Iowa State University, 203 Ross Hall, Ames
IA 50011, USA

Shell nouns as
cohesive devices in
published and
ESL student writing
Discussion leader: Cedra B. Binalet

Abstract

This paper analyzes the use of a special type of


unspecific noun, called shell nouns.

The study analyzes the frequency of some of


these shell nouns, the different lexicogrammatical patterns in which they occur, and
the functions associated with these patterns
using a corpus-based methodology and
quantitative and qualitative procedures.

The result of this study indicates that students


used some of these nouns more frequently than
published authors and that the functional
patterns in which these nouns were used varied
between the two groups of writers.

Research questions
1. Is the use of the selected shell nouns as
frequent in the written production of published
authors as in students production?
2. Which lexico-grammatical patterns can be
identified in both corpora for the most
frequently used shell nouns in the published
corpus?
3. How do these shell nouns function in different
lexico-grammatical patterns as cohesive
devices? Are there any functional differences
between both groups of writers?

Conceptual framework: lexical


cohesion and shell nouns
What is a lexical cohesion?
What are shell nouns?

Conceptual framework: lexical


cohesion and shell nouns
Lexical cohesion in a text is the choice of words can
establish text continuity.
Halliday (1994)
Shell nouns act like shells because when they are
used in this function, they can enclose or anticipate
the meaning of the preceding or succeeding
discourse .
Shell nouns is considered as a combination of
inanimate abstract and factual nouns.
Schmid (2000)

Definitions previously given for abstract nouns


by
different authors
Study/auth
or

Terminology

Francis
(1986)

Anaphoric nouns A-nouns are signals in the linear


discourse that function as signposts
by means of which he/she (reader)
is periodically made aware of the
writers design and how the parts fit
together in the development of the
central theme

Ivanic
(1991)

Carrier nouns

Francis
Advance/retros
(1989, 1994) pective labels

Definition

They frequently carry a specific


meaning within their context in
addition to their dictionary
meaning
Labels may function either
cataphorically or anaphorically.
Where the label precedes its
lexicalization, it will be termed an
advance label; where it follows its
lexicalization, it will be called a

Definitions previously given for abstract nouns


by
different authors
Tadros
(1994)

Enumerative
nouns

Enumeration carries a signal


that commits the writer to
enumerate

Hinkel (2001,
2004)

Enumerative/
catch-all nouns

They have specific identifiable


referents in text, to which these
nouns are connected

Flowerdew
(2003)

Signalling nouns

Any abstract noun, the


meaning of which can only be
made specific by reference to its
context

The four lexico-grammatical patterns


and their functions
Function

Pattern

Example

Cataphoric

Shell noun + clause

Mr. Bush said Iraqs leaders


had to face the fact that
the rest of the world was
against them.

Cataphoric

Shell noun phrase + be The advantage is that


+ clause
there is a huge audience
that can hear other things
you may have to say.

Anaphoric

Demonstrative adjective
(this,
that) + shell noun

(Mr. Ash was in the clearest


possible terms labeling my
clients as anti-semitic.) I
hope it is unnecessary to
say that this accusation is
also completely unjustified.

Anaphoric

Demonstrative pronoun
as subject (this, that,) +
be + shell noun

(I won the freshmens crosscountry.) That was a great


achievement wasnt it?

Description of the published authors and


student writers corpora
Corpus

Number
of texts

Number of
words

Academic disciplines

Published
authors

166

721,553

Art and Design, Biology,


Computer Science,
Economics, Environmental
Engineering, Physics and
Astronomy

Student
writers

28

66,459

Art and Design, Biology,


Computer
Science,Economics,
Environmental Engineering,
Physics and Astronomy

The functions and lexico-grammatical


patterns represent the original framework
used for the analysis of a group of shell
nouns in published and student writing
conducted in the present study.

The study: corpus collection and


data analysis
Two corpora used in this study: a corpus
made up of published research articles and
a corpus of research articles written by
international graduate students, all nonnative speakers of English

Frequency of shell nouns in the two


corpora (normalized to 100,000)
Shell noun

Published writing
corpus
Frequency in 100,000
words

effect
result
fact
system
process
problem
approach
reason
purpose
characteristics
form

Student corpus
Frequency in
100,000 words

In the first stage of the quantitative data


analysis, a frequency count was conducted
using concordancing software, MonoConc
Pro (Barlow, 2002), to determine whether
the use of these shell nouns was as
frequent in published academic writing as in
the production of international graduate
students.

In the final stage of the analysis, the six


most frequent shell nouns in the published
corpus were identified and these nouns
were compared in the two corpora in terms
of their lexico-grammatical patterns and
their use in performing the functions.

Results and discussion


Frequency of shell nouns

The most frequently used shell nouns used


in the published writing corpus (effect,
result, fact, system, process, and problem)
were selected to be the framework of
comparison for the frequency analysis of
the lexico-grammatical patterns and for the
qualitative analysis of functions in both
groups of writers.

Lexico-grammatical patterns:
identification and comparison across
corpora
Occurrences of the six shell nouns in the
published and student corpora.
Neither published writers nor student writers used
any of these shell nouns in the patterns N + be +
clause (shell noun+ be + complement clause
[that-/to-infinitive/wh- clause]) with cataphoric
function and th- + be + N(demonstrative
determiner [this, that] + be + shell noun with
anaphoric function.

Patterns analyzed in this study and


frequency distribution of the lexicogrammatical patterns for the six selected
shell nouns in the published corpus and the
student corpus (Refer it on page 10 tables 7
and 8)

Frequency distribution of the lexicogrammatical patterns for the six selected


shell nouns in the published corpus (P) and
the student corpus (S)
The first of the two frequent patterns was the
structure the + N with anaphoric function. The
shell noun most frequently used in this structure
in both corpora was system.
The second most frequent new pattern was the
collocational framework the + N + of. Similarly,
both groups of writers preferred the same shell
noun for this lexico-grammatical pattern: effect

A t-test is applied to test for a difference in


the mean degree of risk reduction. This
process is conducted separately
for each risk proxy. (published - Economics APFEC)

Functional analysis

This section presents a detailed analysis of


the different lexico-grammatical patterns for
the selected shell nouns when they perform
characterization, temporary conceptformation, and linking functions,
comparing these functional uses in the
production of both groups of writers.

Characterization

characterize a piece of experience in a


general way, relying on the context for the
identification of the details of information
(Schmid, 2000). The lexico-grammatical
patterns associated with this function are N
+ clause and N + be + clause

This fits with the fact that the dust lane


appears to cross the spiral pattern of NGC
1410. (published Physics and Astronomy - AST)

Temporary conceptformation

The cognitive function of concept-formation


(Schmid, 2000) is created by the repeated use of a
word to refer to a certain experience.

In general, the concept-formation function is


combined with the function of characterization for
the nouns effect, results, and process in the pattern
the + N + of in both corpora.

The process of administering the survey was


slightly different for the two groups. (student Economics)

Linking

The interpretation of shell nouns that perform the


textual linking function (Schmid, 2000) depends on
the shell content that must be expressed in the
context, or at least be inferable from it (p. 18). Only
the pattern th- + N, which
is closely associated with this function, could be found
in both corpora, although it had a different frequency
distribution among the selected shell nouns.
Published writers frequently used this pattern with
effect, results, system and process, while students
used this pattern with fact and problem.

Conclusion
study

structure and function of shell nouns in


research articles written by published authors
and
international graduate students

LO: to understand the impact of topic control in


conversations;
To understand what spoken language is like.

Answer
quickly- who
has control
in the
following
conversation
s?
What is talk for?
Eg: a passenger buying
a ticket from a train
driver;
A teacher giving a class
instructions
Think of as many

rTeache
t?
studen

Shop
nt
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t
s
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s
as
me
o
t
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r

Doctorpatient

Friend
friend