Understanding Cultural Differences in the Rhetoric and Composition Classroom: Contrastive Rhetoric as Answer to ESL Dilemmas
Contrastive rhetoric-the term used to describe the argument that the linguistical, organizational, and presentational choices that English-as-a-second-language (ESL) student-writers make substantively differ from the choices that native-English studentwriters make-has only relatively recently been prominent in the scholarly literature and teacher-talk of composition. The whole notion of a “contrastive rhetoric” began in 1966 with Robert Kaplan, who, along with other writing instructors, discovered that the writing patterns of international students who had recently come to the United States were much different from the writing patterns of native writers. He began research into these phenomena, examining the writing of ESL students and trying to determine where their writing deviated from that of native users of English. By closely analyzing compositions written by ESL students, he realized that the differences he had noted were not simply grammatical or surface matters (differences in “spelling…or differences in lexicon”), but underlying differences, including “paragraph order and structure” (Kaplan, 1988, p. 277). He then compared ESL cultural practices to typical Western practices and found many interesting rhetorical trends and deviations (Piper, 1985). Student-writers from AngloEuropean languages seemed to prefer linear developments, whereas student-writers from Asian languages seemed to take a more indirect approach, coming to their points at the ends of their papers. The paragraph development in writing done by students from Semitic languages tended to be based on a series of parallel organizations of coordinate, rather than subordinate, clauses, whereas students from Romance and Russian languages tended to prefer extraneous material (Connor, 1996). In short, Kaplan was able to suggest that rhetorical structure is not universal, but culture-dependent (Piper, 1985).