Gaps in the use of cohesion markers in the writing of Afrikaans grade 6 and grade 9 learners

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The field of text linguistics focuses on linguistic units that extend beyond the sentence and cannot be explained with the help of syntax (Göpferich 2015:3). One of the central questions in text linguistics is what contributes to textuality; that is to say, the property of being a text (Göpferich 2015:3). De Beaugrande and Dressler (1981) highlight the presence of certain principles that define and create the form of behaviour considered textual communication. One of these principles is cohesion (De Beaugrande and Dressler 1981).

A text is cohesive when linkages between structures and lexical items are observed (Biber e.a. 2018:455; Aarts e.a. 2019:125). Cohesion is achieved using cohesion markers in various linguistic forms. Five types of cohesion markers were identified decades ago by Halliday and Hasan (1976:4), namely:

  • reference, where cohesion is achieved through continuity of reference via the use of, among others, pronominal replacement;
  • substitution, that is, cohesion is achieved through the use of a substitute word or “counter” such as “one” instead of “a book”;
  • ellipsis, where something presumed in the structure must be supplied or understood by the reader by relying on the preceding text segment;
  • conjunction, where a relationship between the meanings of two consecutive text segments is established using conjunction markers (“and”, “however”, “the next day”); and
  • lexical cohesion, where the vocabulary of a language is used, including the repetition of the same word/phrase/expression.

Attaining cohesion has numerous advantages. In terms of comprehending and generating text, this leads to the integration of meaning, as it communicates to the reader that an idea is sustained from one point in the discourse to the next while the various parts of a text fit together. This continuity, which is created by means of the linking of the surface components (i.e. cohesion), in turn achieves coherence (Du Toit and Smith-Müller 2003:8; Nordquist 2018). Apart from establishing interrelation, cohesion and coherence also determine the quality of texts (Du Toit and Smith-Müller 2003:7).

Given the above benefits, it is therefore logical that the achievement of cohesion in the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) of Afrikaans Home Language is addressed within the language skill writing and presentation (DBO 2011a; 2011b). This is evident from the inclusion of linking words, which I interpret as language forms (such as pronouns, conjunctions, and synonyms) that point to the use of cohesion markers, the latter of which facilitate cohesion. Linking words appear as early as the Intermediate Phase (grades 4 to 6) and the Senior Phase (grades 7 to 9) in the CAPS. Despite the presence of this in the school curriculum, no investigation has yet been conducted regarding the use of cohesion markers for achieving cohesion by learners at school level. Existing research in Afrikaans-language literature focuses solely on university students’ use of cohesion markers (compare Esterhuizen and Wybenga 2000; Van Rooy and Esterhuizen 2011; Jordaan 2014; Meintjes 2015).

I used a one-time, two-fold cross-sectional survey design to investigate the way Afrikaans-speaking grade 6 and grade 9 learners use cohesion markers. To conduct this investigation, I needed corpora (independent written works) as well as a measuring instrument (a class assignment on cohesion marker use). While my primary focus was on investigating the effective use of cohesion markers, I also noted gaps in relation to their usage. Subsequently, in this article, I report only on trends observed regarding these cohesion marker usage gaps.

Two learner corpora, compiled from the writings of 200 grade 6 and 200 grade 9 learners, comprising 20 723 and 22 171 words, respectively, were used as data sources. Because a corpus must be as representative as possible of the several types of texts in a given language (Biber 1993:256), I tried to obtain a wide variety of writings to be able to assemble the two corpora, including newspaper articles, friendly letters, reviews, and diary entries. The pieces constituting the corpora were read word by word, with each gap being annotated using predetermined codes, although categories emerging from the data were also coded. Each gap was coded using ATLAS.ti.

I also developed a measurement tool, a cohesion marker class assignment, for each of the grades. The cohesion marker class assignment for grade 6 and grade 9 was designed in such a way that it covers all five categories of cohesion markers, namely reference, substitution, ellipsis, conjunction, and lexical cohesion. The cohesion marker class assignments were evaluated according to a set memorandum. After grading the cohesion marker class assignments, a summary of the trends was compiled. These findings regarding trends in relation to cohesion marker usage gaps in the respective learner corpora were synthesized with the trends in relation to cohesion marker usage gaps in the class assignments and presented in the form of a systematized table with illustrative examples.

It should be noted that I consistently made value judgements about the participants’ language usage. Some of these judgements are potentially idiosyncratic rather than truly “correct” or “incorrect”. The analysis revealed various trends regarding cohesion marker usage gaps.

  • Sometimes linguistic forms for realising cohesion markers were used ineffectively or in a cohesion-detrimental manner. An example of this is the use of language forms that complicate exploitation, where linguistic forms whose referent has not been introduced through an antecedent in the text are employed. The meaning of the linguistic form must be inferred from the textual context. Additional examples include a substitution error being committed when a less meaningful linguistic form was used. At other times, cohesive language forms were mistakenly omitted.
  • Linguistic forms indicating the use of cohesion markers were also effective, but not necessarily linguistically accurate. In other words, they differed from the accepted norm for their usage in writing. Examples of this include instances where two connected cohesive sentences were mistakenly separated by a period, or where the incorrect form of a linguistic element was used (for instance, using “wat” instead of “waarvoor”).
  • Sometimes linguistic forms were used effectively but not stylistically elegantly. This is typically observed where learners still achieve cohesion in an effective manner but, for example, by repetitively using the same conjunction markers. Without any variation, they produce texts that are not stylistically refined. This is also a trend observed in English texts where “but”, “so” and “then” are repeatedly used.

This article contributes by investigating, for the first time, trends related to gaps in the usage of cohesion markers with respect to all five cohesion markers in the writing of Afrikaans-speaking grade 6 and grade 9 learners. In particular, the synthesized summary in section 5.1 can serve as a useful checklist for teachers to alert learners to the typical trends regarding gaps in cohesion marker usage that appears in writing and should be avoided when linguistic forms are used to realise cohesion markers (at least connecting words in the CAPS – see section 1).

Keywords: cohesion; cohesion marker class assignments; cohesion marker usage gaps; conjunctions; grade 6 learners; grade 9 learners; L1 speakers; student writing


  • This article’s featured image was created by PDPics and obtained from Pixabay.


Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans

Leemtes in die gebruik van kohesiemerkers in die skryfwerk van Afrikaanssprekende graad 6- en graad 9-leerders

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