The Effect of Text Cohesion on Reading Comprehension
by Mohammad Hossein Parvaz, Orumiyeh University
of Zanjan, Iran
present study is an attempt at examining the effect of cohesive ties on language
comprehension. Language comprehension is an interactive process consisting
of background knowledge, cognitive
tasks and conceptual abilities. These three factors contribute most to an
individual's comprehension. Cohesion (lexical or referential), being a
text feature, is decisive with regard to an individual's comprehension of a
passage, particularly to non-natives. In the following sections the
relationship between this feature and of the text and the cognitive processes
involved will be discussed at large.
centuries language analysis has been approached analytically. The most important
characteristic of these approaches is that they consider language to be a
self-contained system which is independent of the pragmatic environment.
Moreover, language was considered to be made up of parts and the study of
language meant the study of its parts. This view is well illustrated in the
traditional grammars so far written.
the other hand, newer approaches to language have viewed language as a synthetic
phenomenon. In other words, in the study of language, one should take into
account a good number of social, cultural, and situational factors that are
assumed to affect language use and its features. In such a view, not only the
linguistic code but also a knowledge of the communicative value of the
linguistic code in relation to its linguistic and situational context is
TEXT AND DISCOURSE
distinction is usually made between the words text
(1988) defines text as "the formal properties of a piece of language. A
text is regarded as an exemplification of the operation of the linguistic code
at an intra-sentential level." So, a text is a combination of sentences as
formal linguistic objects. On the other hand, the use of such a sentence
combination is referred to as discourse.
are better to be studied in terms of their own features. For one may think that
because it is a combination of sentences, it should carry the characteristics of
a sentence. Texture
refers to a text with its related features. Different types of features have
been distinguished and defined by researchers with three different viewpoints.
These include: the procedural approach to text, the functional approach, and the
schema-theoretical approach. Of these three approaches, we are interested in the
third one i.e. the schema-theoretical approach. In this approach, the text
itself does not carry any meaning; it is the text user who is responsible for
the interpretation of the text on the basis of the clues that exist in the text.
In this section, we will review the literature on this approach.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
has been defined in a number of ways. Widdowson defines it in terms of the
distinction that is made between the illocutionary act and the proposition. In
his view (P.52), propositions, when linked together, form a "text"
whereas illocutionary acts, when related to each other, create different kinds
to Halliday and Hasan (1976), cohesion and register enable us to create a text.
Register is concerned with what a text means. It is defined by Halliday and
Hasan as the "set of semantic configuration that is typically associated
with a particular class of context of situation, and defines the substance of
as contrasted with register, is not concerned with what a text means. Rather, it
refers to a set of meaning relations
that exist within the text. These relations are not of the kind that link the
components of a sentence and they differ from sentential structure. The
discovery of these meaning relations is crucial to its interpretation. For
instance, in the following text:
bought a new pencil. She put it in her drawer.
interpretation of the elements she
is dependent on the lexical items Mary
So, cohesion is in the semantic relation that is setup between these elements.
to Halliday and Hasan, the function of cohesion is to relate one part of a text
to another part of the same text. Consequently, it lends continuity to the text.
By providing this kind of text continuity, cohesion enables the reader or
listener to supply all the components of the picture to its interpretation.
Halliday and Hasan hold that cohesion in its normal form, is the presupposition
of something that has gone before in the discourse, whether in the immediately
preceding sentence or not. This form of presupposition is referred to as anaphoric.
The presupposing item may point forward to something following it. This type of
presupposition is called cataphoric.
On the other hand, exophoric
presuppositions refer to an item of information outside and inside the text,
and Hasan recognize five types of cohesive devices in English and in the
lexicogrammatical system of the language. They are reference, substitution, ellipsis, conjunction,
Reference, substitution, and ellipsis are grammatical; lexical cohesion is
lexical; conjunction stands on the border line between the two categories. In
other words, It is mainly grammatical but sometimes involves lexical selection.
view language comprehension as an interactive process between the text and the
person using the text. They assume that meaning does not exist in the text but
becomes available to the reader as a result of his own contribution. Language
users employ text in comprehension as a set of guidelines to the active (re)creation
(1987) in his explanation of the advantage(s) of adopting a constructionist
point of view says:
... one is able to speculate on the structure of language knowledge and on the various stages in the acquisition of such structures as well as their application to the cognitive tasks involved in comprehending.
the above statement, it follows that constructionists emphasize the role of
background knowledge as a feature of a text; and the cognitive tasks involved in
the comprehension process. Below we will discuss these key points i.e.
background knowledge and cognitive tasks at large.
(1979) presents us with a psycholinguistic model of reading in which he
illustrates the interaction of cognitive tasks with background knowledge in a
defines the term conceptual ability as general intellectual capacities, and
process strategies as various subcomponents of reading skills which also apply
to oral language. Regarding background knowledge, he believes that it will
become an important variable when we notice students with Western backgrounds of
some kind learn English faster, on average, than those without such kind of
and Eisterhold (1983) consider language background knowledge an important factor
in comprehending a text; they express this importance as follows:
Efficient comprehension requires the ability to relate the textual material to one's own knowledge. Comprehending words, sentences, and entire texts involves more than just relying on one's linguistic knowledge.
in their article, Carrel and Eisterhold (1983) talk of two types of background
knowledge: formal and informal. Formal knowledge refers to the reader's
knowledge of the rhetorical organizational structures of different types of
texts; content knowledge refers to the content area of a text. They also believe
that reader's failure to provide the proper formal and, particularly, content
knowledge (schema) would result in various degrees of non-comprehension.
(1982), in an attempt to examine the importance of learner characteristics (i.e.
his schema) in relation to learner performance on ESL tests, comes up with
significant differences between his subjects with different major fields. He
also points out that this difference, as a variable, should be esteemed in the
tests that are designed in such a way as to refrain from pushing any sort of
injustice against learners in a heterogeneous class.
the cognitive processes involved in reading a text, Eisterhold (1983)
distinguishes two basic modes of information processes: bottom-up and top-down.
He further elaborates on how these two modes function in a schema theory model.
Schemata are hierarchically organized, from most general at the top to most specific at the bottom. As these bottom-level schemata converge into higher level, more general schemata, these, too, become activated. Top-down processing, on the other hand, occurs as the system makes general predictions based on higher level, general schemata and then searches the input for information to fit into these partially satisfied higher order schemata.
the above quotation one may infer that these two modes function separately.
However, both these modes function simultaneously at all levels: the data needed
to instantiate the schemata become available through bottom-up processing;
top-down processing facilitates their assimilation if they are anticipated on
the part of the listener or reader's conceptual expectations.
university students (80 English majors and 80 non-English majors) served as the
subjects of this study. The English majors, all taking "Advanced
Translation" course in the Azad University of Meybod (in Yazd province)
were normally supposed to be of higher proficiency level, than their non-English
major counterparts in the same university. The non-English major subjects were
all engineering students, taking "General English II." The only
criteria for the assignment of subjects to the two groups were their major
fields and the above-mentioned courses they were taking.
cloze tests were designed out of a passage of
750 words length. The passage was chosen from a reading textbook. Then
every fifth word was deleted. The first and the last sentences remained intact,
resulting a passage of which 40 words were left out. In the second version of
the test, first all the cohesive ties were identified according to the taxonomy
proposed by Halliday and Hasan (1976). Then one member of each pair of cohesive
ties was deleted. The cohesive ties were either of lexical or referential type.
Again leaving the first and last sentences of the text intact, we came up with a
passage of which 40 words were left out.
took place during the spring of 1994. In order for the test to be taken
seriously, students were told that the test was part of their course
requirements. To make the subjects familiar with the test-taking procedure, the
instruction was orally given both in English and Farsi. For the sake of
eliminating any sort of probable misunderstanding, illustrative examples were
given prior to the test-taking procedure. The subjects' performance was scored
using the acceptable word method. The data thus obtained were subjected to a
two-way ANOVA. Tables I and II (in appendices) show the descriptive statistics
and the two-way analysis of variance.
determine the effects of each of the two variables (i.e. test format and
language proficiency), a two-way ANOVA was applied to the data. In both versions
of the test, English-major students outperformed non-English-major subjects. The
two-way ANOVA main effect for language proficiency was F[1, 38] = 31.21, P «
0.05. The difference due to the format of the test was also significant. The
scores on the cohesive ties format were significantly higher than those on
standard format test. The two-way ANOVA main effect for the test format was F[1,
38] = 9.93, P « 0.01. All the computations were done by the employment of the
SPSS Computer Software.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
language proficiency, the results were neither new nor interesting because it is
quite obvious that English-major subjects would normally perform better than
their non-English-major counterparts. The differences due to test format,
however, were very interesting. All subjects, regardless of their majors,
performed better on the cohesive ties format (although, again, the English-major subjects did better). This difference in
performance can be accounted for with a consideration of the fact that, in
standard fixed-ratio format, deletions with regular intervals may be crucial to
the meaning of the text and may sometimes leave no clue to the meaning and
consequently to the words to be supplied. In the cohesive ties format, since one
member of any pair of cohesive ties is left intact, enough context is provided
for the testee to supply the correct words.
Carrel, P. L. and J. C. Eisterhold (1983). "Schema Theory and ESL
Reading Pedagogy" in TESOL Quarterly. 17, 553-573.
Farhady, H. (1982). "Measures of Language Proficiency from the
Learner's Perspective" in TESOL Quarterly. 16, 43-59.
Halliday, M. A. K. and R. Hasan (1976). Cohesion in English.
London: Longman UK group Limited.
Halliday, M. A. K. and R. Hasan (1980). "Text and Context: Language
in a Social-Semiotic Perspective" in Sophia Linguistica. VI. Tokyo:
Sophia University Graduate School of Languages and Linguistics.
Jonz, J. (1987). "Textual Cohesion and Second Language
Comprehension" in Language Learning. Vol. 37, 30.
Perkins, K. and J. P. Angelis (1985). "Schematic Concept Formation: Concurrent Validity for Attained English as a Second Language Reading Comprehension?" in Language Learning. Vol. 32, 2.
Hossein Parvaz and Dr
Ali Salmani-Nodoushan, http://www.znu.ac.ir/Members/nodushan.htm,
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