The Value of Contrasting Various Discourses

It is extremely beneficial for tutors to understand the rhetorical structure of other discourses. Writing created in Romance languages, Germanic languages, Semitic languages, Oriental languages, and Russian all express ideas differently according to the structure of their sentences, paragraphs, and entire essays. Therefore, what may be considered coherent in an English essay may not be clear when translated into another language. Each discourse possesses a unique logic, which leads to the structure and the coherence of the writing.

Although there are many different ways to effectively write in an academic setting, most students are taught that English is very linear in its development. They learn that paragraphs, for example, need to begin with a topic sentence, followed by several supporting details and examples that illustrate and develop the main topic. All of the ideas presented within the body of the essay are supposed to develop the central idea and relate to each other. In Kaplan's words, "the flow of ideas occurs in a straight line from the opening sentence to the last sentence" (403). Unified writing contains no superfluous material and does not omit information that is essential to the development of the thesis. The English paragraph should never be digressive.

Native speakers of Semitic languages construct and develop their ideas in writing very differently than native speakers of English do. Paragraph development is based on a complex series of both positive and negative parallelisms. In synonymous parallelism, the thought and phrasing of the first part of a statement is balanced with the second part, and the two parts are often connected by a conjunction. An example of this structure is:

"His descendants will be mighty in the land and the generation of the upright will be blessed" (Kaplan 404).

Synthetic parallelism involves completing the idea or thought of the first past of a statement in the second part. A conjunctive adverb tends to be stated or implied. For example, an Arabic writer might say,

"Because he inclined his ear to me therefore I will call on him as long as I live" (Kaplan 404).

Antithetic parallelism emphasizes the expression of the idea of the first part of a statement by the expression of a contrasting idea in the second part. Often times, the contrast is expressed in the phrasing of the sentence, such as:

"For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: But the way of the wicked shall perish" (Kaplan 404).

Lastly, in climactic parallelism the main idea of the composition is not "completed" until the very end of the entire passage, for example,

"Give unto the Lord, o ye sons of the mighty, Give unto the Lord glory and strength" (Kaplan 404).

All of these sentences would most likely appear to be archaic or awkward to an English speaking reader, and would possibly affect the effective communication of the idea.

The same type of confusion can also occur when writing in other languages, such as Oriental languages. Oriental writing is characterized by indirection. The development of the paragraph in this mode of writing can be described as "turning and turning in a widening gyre" (Kaplan 406). The subject is presented from a variety of tangential views, but is never looked at directly, and the topic is based on what is not, rather than what is. A clear example of this writing style can be seen in "The Definition of College Education," which is included in Kaplan's article, "Cultural Thought Patterns in Inter-Cultural Education." In this section of the article, a Korean student's response manifests the differences that exist in composition:

College is an institution of an higher learning that gives degrees. All of us needed culture and education in life, if no education to us, we should go to living hell. One of the greatest causes that while other animals have remained as they first man along has made such progress is has learned about civilization. The improvement of the highest civilization is in order to education up-to-date. So college education is very important thing which we don't need mention about (Kaplan 406).

In this example, the first sentence defines college, not college education, which happens to be the proposed subject of the essay. The second sentence makes a general statement concerning education in relation to culture, and this most definitely has nothing to do with the definition of a college education. The third statement moves even farther from the topic of the essay when it begins to talk about "man," as opposed to "non-man," and in the fourth sentence, civilization is associated with education. The concluding sentence is partially a topic sentence, while the other idea that it expresses is obvious, and thus does not require further elaboration. In essence, this composition ends where it should have begun!

Writing that is composed in romance languages such as French, Spanish, and Italian tends to contain more digressions than English. In the following passage, "The American Children," a native speaker of Latin American Spanish talks about the differences between raising a child in America versus raising a child in a Latin American country.

In America, the American children are bought differently from the rest if the children in other countries. In their childhood, from the first day they are born, the parents give the children the love and attention they need. They teach their children the meaning of Religion among the family and to have respect and obedience for their parents.

I am Spanish, and I was brought up differently than the children in America. My parents are stricter and they taught me discipline and not to interrupt when someone was talking. (Kaplan 408)

This passage exemplifies a typical piece of writing created by a native speaker of a romance language. In any one of the romance languages, there is more freedom to deviate from the proposed topic of the composition. Although the extraneous information may be interesting, it does not contribute relevant material to the composition. It is very typical to encounter these types of digressions in romance language writing.

The Russian language is extremely complex and for this reason, it is very common to find a combination of linguistic and rhetorical problems within the body of an essay. In order to exemplify these difficulties, we can examine the following passage, which is a translation, not a piece of student writing.

....One should join to any logic of the language a phenomenology of the spoken word. Moreover, this phenomenology will, in its turn, rediscover the idea of a logos immanent in the language; but will seek the justification for this in a more general philosophy of the relations between man and the world.... From one culture to another it is possible to establish communication. The Rorschach test has been successful applied to the natives of the island of Alor. (Kaplan 409)

Some of the difficulty that occurs within this passage is linguistic, rather than rhetorical. The structure of the Russian sentence is totally different from the structure of the English sentence, and thus the translation is not easy to comprehend. However, some of the linguistic difficulty relates to the rhetorical difficulty. For the native speaker of English, it is quite obvious that a portion of the information is completely irrelevant to the central thought of the paragraph.


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The Role of an ESL Tutor

The Importance of Understanding Differences in Rhetoric

Resistance To Foreign Rhetoric

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