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Chapter 2 Contrastive Rhetoric “[A] group of languages need not in the least correspond to a racial group or a culture area.” (Sapir, 1921/1949) “The study of language . . . shows that the forms of a person’s thought are controlled by inexorable laws of pattern of which he is unconscious. . . . And every language is a vast pattern system, different from others, in which are culturally ordained the forms and categories by which the personality not only communicates, but also analyzes nature, notices or neglects types of relationship and phenomena, channels his reasons, and builds the house of his consciousness.” (Whorf, 1956) “Logic (in the popular, rather than the logician’s sense of the word) which is the basis of rhetoric, is evolved out of a culture; it is not universal. Rhetoric, then, is not universal either, but varies from culture to culture and even from time to time within a given culture.” (Kaplan, 1966) “The thought patterns which speakers and readers of English appear to expect as an integral part of their communication is a sequence that is dominantly linear in its development.” (Kaplan, 1966) “[Q]uite a few Japanese intellectuals believe that the language they use and the texts they create are not logically organized. Obviously, these claims defy common sense. Japanese texts cannot be a sum of mutually unrelated semantic fragments. They must have a logical structure which prevents the text from disintegrating.” (Nanri, 2001). 26 L E A D I N G Q U E S T I O N S • What are the main arguments in the contrastive rhetoric debate? • How might aspects of contrastive rhetoric continue to inform our views of writing from different cultures? • What are the implications of contrastive rhetoric for the teaching of writing? Introduction to the Issues Contrastive rhetoric (CR) as a field of study began with the publication of Robert Kaplan’s 1966 article in Language Learning . Kaplan assumed a kind of linguistic relativity, specifically that the rhetorical aspects of each language are unique to each language and culture. In second and foreign language education, this assumption implies that differences between the discourse-level features of a learner’s first and second language cause difficulties for L2 learners who are trying to acquire discourse-level patterns in their second languages. In other words, inherent in the CR project is the assumption of negative transfer from L1 to L2. Understanding such differences , so the claim goes, can help scholars and teachers explain some of the problems that L2 learners have in organizing their writing in ways that seem acceptable to native speakers. In the applied linguistics literature, “rhetoric” usually refers to discourse-level organizational patterns rather than, as Aristotle defined it, to a constellation of techniques for persuasion. Beginning with Kaplan’s early article, Aristotle’s five elements (invention, memory, arrangement, style, and delivery) were reduced to “arrangement” (Liebman, 1992, p. 142). In Kaplan’s work CR is also tied to “modes of thinking,” however, in the sense that what is considered logical in one culture may not be in another. Contrastive Rhetoric 27 Kaplan’s motivation in looking at rhetorics contrastively was pedagogical and, according to Connor (1998), continues to be so. The project, moreover, has been descriptive rather than predictive (Kaplan, 1988, pp. 275–276). As Kaplan pointed out, “the interest was primarily in finding solutions to an immediate pedagogical problem” (Kaplan, 1988, p. 277), one that L2 writing teachers continue to struggle with. He had observed many nonnative-like patterns (e.g., nonlinearity) in the English-language essays of undergraduates at his U.S. university and wished to help teachers design content and instructional materials that would help students write according to expected conventions, especially at the paragraph level. Since that time Kaplan’s descriptions of several different culturally based rhetorical patterns, and the accompanying “doodles” of straight lines, circles, and zigzags, have been widely cited for their intuitively compelling “truths” and equally criticized for overgeneralizing a highly complex idea. Others, and Kaplan himself, later expanded Kaplan’s original pedagogical project to one of research in which scholars investigated rhetorical features of writing across many languages (see, e.g., the collections in Connor & Kaplan, 1987, and Purves, 1988, and reviews in Connor, 1996, and Grabe & Kaplan, 1996). Kaplan (1988) noted that the linguistic roots of CR stem from the Prague school of linguistics, but he did not discuss the philosophical underpinnings of linguistic relativity in the most widely read of his articles and book chapters. Matsuda (2001, p...


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