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Pieter de Haan

Abstract

This article seeks to find confirmation for the claim (cf. Biber et al. 1998; Biber et al. 1999; de Haan 2001) that the syntactic differences between spoken and written English virtually all point to the same conclusion, viz. that the written variety has a strong nominal character, whereas the spoken variety has a strong verbal, or clausal character. In other words, the noun phrase, with its noun phrase functions, is the typical central unit of the structure of written English, whereas the clause, with its clause functions, is a far more typical unit of the structure of spoken English.

This article is based on the assumption that the non-nominal character of spoken English is shown in the relative absence of nouns ending in typical nominalisation suffixes like –ness, –ity, –ance, –ation, etc., as well as in the differences in syntactic make-up between NPs centred around these nouns in spoken and written English. The data have been collected from the BNC sampler CD-ROM, which comprises 1 million words of spoken English and 1 million words of written English.

It is shown that there is a cline from informal spoken language to informative writing, in that the non-nominal character of spoken English is most outspoken in informal texts, while more formal spoken interactions have a more nominal character than imaginative writing. Informative writing has the strongest nominal character.

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Pieter de Haan

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This article reviews some of the recent literature on the ongoing discussion about the use of whom in spoken and written English. Some linguists claim that whom is artificially kept alive by prescriptive grammarians, and that it has virtually disappeared from the spoken language. Investigations of the occurrence of whom in a number of recent English corpora show its continuing use in various text categories, especially the more formal types of writing, although it is by no means confined to writing. Its chief syntactic function is that of complement to a preposition, most notably in the construction of whom when postmodifying an NP headed by a numeral or a quantifier. Almost one fifth of all occurrences of whom are of this type.

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Pieter de Haan

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Corpus-Based Research into Language

In honour of Jan Aarts

Edited by Nelleke Oostdijk and Pieter de Haan

For over two decades Jan Aarts has been actively involved in corpus linguistic research. He was the instigator of a large number of projects, and he was responsible for what has become known as the Nijmegen approach to corpus linguistics. It is thanks to him that words like TOSCA and LDB have become household names in the corpus linguistic community.
The present volume has been collected in his honour. The contributions in it cover a wide range of topics in the field of corpus linguistic research, especially those in which Jan Aarts takes a keen interest: corpus encoding and tagging, parsing and databases, and the linguistic exploration of corpus data. The contributions in this volume discuss work done in this field outside Nijmegen, for the obvious reason that we do not wish to present him with a report on work in which he is himself involved.
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Pieter de Haan and Monique van der Haagen

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The study of EFL writing has so far not been able to go beyond the observation and discussion of group characteristics. While it has been possible to study developmental data, in the sense that writing products of students at various levels of proficiency were available for research, longitudinal EFL data were virtually non-existent. The LONGDALE project seeks to find an answer to the question how EFL writing develops over time. This article reports on a quantitative and a qualitative study of Dutch EFL writing, based on a modest amount of longitudinal data. Its aim is to find out if and how non-native writing develops over time, whether it develops in the direction of native writing, and whether individual students display individual developmental patterns. The answer to all three questions appears to be affirmative.

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Pieter de Haan and Kees van Esch

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An important aspect of academic foreign language writing courses is assessing and grading the quality of students’ writing products. This can be done by using holistic or analytical scales or by ranking. What is needed specifically for the Dutch context is an instrument geared towards the specific objectives and context of our foreign language courses, which can help the teacher to assess students’ written products with more validity and which can be used to assess students’ progress over time. A joint project, aiming at developing such an instrument for the specific Dutch context, has recently started at the departments of English and Spanish in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. The present article describes the first step towards developing the above-mentioned instrument: the set-up of two modest-sized “longitudinal” learner corpora, one for Spanish and one for English. These corpora will contain learner essays written under controlled conditions and on predefined topics. The first batch of student essays was collected in March 2002. Lexical and syntactic analyses of these essays will provide a unique insight into the development of the students’ writing skills. An initial quantitative analysis of the essays has already yielded a number of interesting observations. The article concludes with a tentative suggestion for a more elaborate instrument to relate student performance to teacher assessment.

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Pieter de Haan and Kees van Esch

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In de Haan & van Esch (2004; 2005) we outline a research project designed to study the development of writing skills in English and Spanish as foreign languages, based on theories developed, for instance, in Shaw & Liu (1998) and Connor & Mbaye (2002). This project entails collecting essays written by Dutch-speaking students of English (EFL writing) and Dutch-speaking students of Spanish (SFL writing) at one-year intervals, in order to study the development of their writing skills, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The essays are written on a single prompt, taken from Grant & Ginther (2000), asking the students to select their preferred source of news and give specific reasons to support their preference. Students’ proficiency level is established on the basis of holistic teacher ratings.

A first general analysis of the essays has been carried out with WordSmith Tools. Moreover, the texts have been computer-tagged with Biber’s tagger (Biber, 1988; 1995). An initial analysis of relevant text features (Polio, 2001) has provided overwhelming evidence of the relationship between a number of basic linguistic features and proficiency level (de Haan & van Esch, 2004; 2005).

In the current article we present the results of more detailed analyses of the EFL material collected from the first cohort of students in two consecutive years, 2002 and 2003, and discuss a number of salient linguistic features of students’ writing skills development. We first discuss the development of general features such as essay length, word length and type/token ratio. Then we move on to discuss how the use of specific lexical features (cf. Biber, 1995; Grant & Ginther, 2000) has developed over one year in the three proficiency level groups that we have distinguished. While the development of the general features over one year is shown to correspond logically to what can be assumed to be increased proficiency, the figures for the specific lexical features studied do not all point unambiguously in the same direction.

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English Language Corpora

Design, Analysis and Exploitation. Papers from the thirteenth International Conference on English Language Research on Computerized Corpora, Nijmegen 1992

Edited by Jan Aarts, Pieter de Haan and Nelleke Oostdijk

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Monique van der Haagen, Pieter de Haan and Rina de Vries

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Dutch students of English at Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands are believed to enter university at CEFR B2 and, on graduation, are expected to have reached CEFR C2 in reading, writing, listening, spoken production and interaction. There is, however, preciously little evidence that links students’ proficiency to the actual CEFR. This is hardly surprising as the difficulties of linking language users’ production to specific CEFR levels are well-known. The English department does not really systematically chart students’ progress in language proficiency, so that no documentation of the development of students’ language production is available.

As a first attempt at finding out whether or not it is possible to measure students’ progress in spoken English over the first two years of their degree course objectively, a small pilot study of a corpus of spoken English was undertaken. The participants were 31 students from a single cohort who were recorded in their first week at university and at the end of their first and second year. On all occasions they were asked to respond to a set of written general questions, such as “have you read a good book lately?”.