Plenary speakers

Plenary I

The Disciplinary Development of Second Language Writing Studies


Purdue University, USA

Consonant with the focus of this symposium on disciplinary issues, this plenary session will examine the disciplinary development of second language studies. It will begin with a consideration of the nature of disciplinarity, working from common criteria developed by scholars in the sociology of academia for conferring disciplinary status on an area of study and for characterizing disciplines. It will continue with an examination of the disciplinary origins of second language studies, including a look at past and present relationships between second language studies and related fields. The central part of this presentation will constitute a decade by decade overview of developments in second language writing from the middle of the twentieth century to the present. This overview will address general issues, such as ideology, inquiry paradigms, politics, theory, research design (both empirical and hermeneutic), and instructional approaches, as well as specific issues, such as elements of disciplinary infrastructure (journals, conferences, organizations, graduate programs), publications (journal articles, monographs, collections, and dissertations) and publication venues, the range of topics and foci in the existing body of literature on second language writing studies, and individual scholars and their contributions to the field’s body of knowledge. The plenary will also include an assessment of the current status of the field, an attempt to discern future directions (especially with regard to internationalization and globalization issues), and some cautions regarding potential impediments to progress in second language studies’ theory, research, and practice.


Plenary II

Why does Second-Language Writing have to be so Complicated?


OISE, University of Toronto, Canada

There are strong reasons, both theoretical and practical, why research, teaching, and assessment practices for writing in second languages necessarily involve issues of complexity and variability.  Writing develops primarily through education and specialized activities, codifies aspects of discourse seldom salient in spoken interactions, and serves as an indicator of individual knowledge, identity, and status.  For these reasons, research and educational policies tend to focus on particular institutional contexts and learner populations. But contexts and populations vary, as do the points and conditions in a person’s life when writing in a second language may be acquired.  Moreover, the aspects of writing and second languages that may be taught or assessed are numerous, multifaceted, and interdependent.  These aspects also need to be considered from diverse perspectives, such as learner characteristics, composing processes, and written texts. Each of these perspectives interacts, as well, with abilities and subsystems in first and additional languages, complex psychological and sociolinguistic variables, as well as educational and other public policies.  Drawing on examples from several recent empirical studies, I argue that future inquiry and educational practices need to continue to pursue theoretically-informed views of the multiple dimensions of writing and second languages, linking micro- and macro-aspects of social contexts while illuminating and evaluating patterns in learners’ development, effective teaching-learning interactions, and institutional policies.  


Plenary III

Understanding the Social and the Cultural in Second Language Writing


Purdue University , USA

Many studies of second language writing (SLW) are resolutely asocial and acultural. I begin this presentation by discussing why that may be, given that the "L" (language) and "W" (writing) of "SLW" are social constructions par excellence. Possible reasons include: the cognitivist and expressivist biases of process writing, the assumption that writing classrooms are socioculturally neutral sites, an implicit   ideology of individualism, a case-study approach, the opposition between "writing" and "literacy," and a certain culture-phobia, especially following strong critiques of contrastive rhetoric and other "culturalist" approaches.

Next, I introduce three perspectives on society and culture which inform studies of second language writing: the sociorhetorical perspective; the intercultural rhetoric (formerly contrastive rhetoric) perspective; and the multilingual perspective. In each case, I introduce the theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches undergirding the perspective, describe one exemplar study, and provide constructive evaluation and critique.

Finally, I speculate on future directions for social and cultural research in SLW, suggesting additional ways that the social and the cultural might be treated in the field.

Plenary IV

Exploring interfaces between second language writing and second language acquisition


University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA

The field of second language (L2) writing has grown exponentially in recent years, as chronicled in the most comprehensive review to date, published by Leki, Cumming, and Silva in 2008. Some of the scholarship has expanded disciplinary horizons by examining increasingly diverse contexts where L2 writers face a variety of demands for writing, including contexts involving writers who are young bilinguals, heritage language learners, and minority immigrants in elementary through tertiary education; as well as contexts where L2 writing is done in the work place or for publication in academia. Another thriving line of expansion has to do with the application of social and critical lenses as tools that enable an in-depth understanding of the nature of L2 writing. The relationship between L2 writing and second language acquisition (SLA), on the other hand, appears to have attracted less interest and has witnessed only minimal growth and little intellectual renewal in the last decade.

In this presentation, I will argue that it would benefit the field at large to engage with the following research problems where L2 writing and SLA intersect:

  • What is the relationship between language development and writing development, and how do they support and constrain each other?
  • What can cognitive-linguistic inquiry into composing processes and textual products  contribute to the development of L2 writing theories, and what are its limitations?
  • What kinds of knowledge (e.g., implicit, explicit, formulaic, metalinguistic, socio-affective) do L2 users develop as they become successful multicompetent writers?

While I consider these to be the three most promising interfaces between L2 writing and SLA research, I will also identify strategies that are needed if we are to witness invigorating research efforts and heightened theoretical innovation in each of the three areas in the future.

Plenary V

Cognitive processes in text production – what is planned when?


University of Nottingham, UK

Mental activity can usefully be categorised in terms of the typical timeframe within which actions are completed. Low level (cognitive) processes – up to simple intention-action-response sequences – typically take no more than 1 second. These occur automatically, subconsciously, and are not available to introspection. Intentionally rational processes – the conscious and deliberate marshalling of lower-level cognitive processes to achieve a specific goal (writing this abstract, for example) – are associated with timeframes above one second. Psychological explanations of writer behaviour have been almost exclusively at the intentionally rational level: What are the strategies that writers use, and how can these be manipulated in a way that improves the quality of their text?

Beyond vague claims about “working memory use”, little attention has been given to the cognitive mechanisms that these strategies are intended to control.
In my talk I will describe three pieces of research, all of which are broadly concerned with planning. The first used analyses based in Rhetorical Structure Theory and analysis of the time course of idea retrieval to explore planning-before-drafting and the extent to which these plans are translated into text. The second describes writers’ eye movement as they produce spontaneous, extended text, and in particular activity at clause, sentence and paragraph boundaries that might be associated planning what to say next. Third, I’ll discuss some recent laboratory experiments involving the production of highly-constrained short sentences aimed at establishing how much of the grammatical structure of a sentence is planned in advance of the writer starting to type. All three studies, arguably, illustrate the importance of considering low level, automatic processes when developing an understanding of text production.

Plenary VI

The Disciplinary Division of Labor: A Decade Later


Arizona State University, USA

 This presentation focuses on the challenge of applying insights from second language writing research across disciplinary boundaries, using the interdisciplinary relationship with rhetoric and composition as an example. The field of second language writing has maintained a rather complex relationship with rhetoric and composition studies. In the late 1990s, some researchers described the relationship as a "one way affair" (Silva, Leki, & Carson, 1997, p. 399) because, at the time, insights from second language writing research did not seem to be influencing the teaching of L2 writers in mainstream U.S. college composition courses. To rectify this situation, I pointed out the systemic nature of the situation by articulating the problem of the disciplinary division of labor, a conceptual metaphor that seemed to define the relationship between composition studies and second language studies (Matsuda, 1998, 1999). As a result of this and many other efforts over the last decade, second language writing has gained recognition among rhetoric and composition researchers as an important perspective to consider. Yet, much more work is needed before all writing teachers will be prepared to address the needs of L2 writes in the classroom. To further this cause, I will describe various strategies that have been used over the last decade in trying to integrate the second language perspective into the institutional practices of rhetoric and composition. I will also discuss some of the challenges that second language writing researchers in continuing with this project. I will conclude by suggesting ways in which second language writing teachers and researchers can increase their ability to advocate for second language writers who are affected by the institutional practices of various disciplines.

Plenary VII

L1-L2 writing processes, text quality and learner characteristics: empirical studies


(together with Daphne van Weijen, Marion Tillema, Martine Braaksma and Huub van den Bergh)
University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

While monolinguistic regions are transformed into plurilingual regions, citizen must deal with writing in at least two different languages. To prepare students to function in a plurilinguistic environment, we must offer them writing education in L1 and L2.
To get more insight into the transfer from L1 writing processes to L2 writing situations, various studies are available. There are studies in which L1 writers are compared with L2 writers and studies in which students write in L1 as well as in L2. Some studies focus on comparing the process itself; few include the relation between process and text quality. Some studies do compare processes, but only compare the amount of planning, formatting and revision, without taking into account the comparison of the dynamic patterns of change. Some studies compare L1 processes and L2 processes within writers, but centre the comparisons on just one L1 process and one L2 process per writer, thereby neglecting the effect of writing task.

In this plenary, we would like to present some main findings in L1 process research (Rijlaarsdam & Van den Bergh, 2006; Van den Bergh, Rijlaarsdam, Janssen, Braaksma, van Weijen,  & Tillema, 2009), focusing on the dynamics of writing processes, related to text quality, to find out what processes are related to relatively high quality texts. Secondly, we will discuss the effect of tasks. For example, in what respects do writers vary between tasks (adapting to the task situation)? In what respects do they show ‘stable’ process behavior? To what extent is this stability an indication of a good writer or, in contrast, an indication of rigorous constraints on task execution?
When we find out from writers in what respects their writing process varies in the L1, we may start to study their L2 processes. Do students who vary their L1 processes across tasks do the same in L2 situations?