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Achievement of cohesion in english language learner’s writings


Appropriately linking adverbials is essential for construction of textual cohesion in both the written and spoken English. While reference grammar books are present in describing the usage patterns of linking adverbials in addition to studies investigating the difficulties faced by the learner in using the cohesive devices, there is limited discussion on the significance of Cohesion for English language learner’s writings and how to effectively teach and learn them. Therefore, by drawing on corpus findings and testing the adequacy of existing books, the document will provide in-depth insight on what extend the students’ language barriers impact on their achievement of cohesion in writing. Further, the principles and discussions presented in the current study will provide useful guidelines for EFL/ESL learners’ and how to overcome challenges obstructing the achievement of cohesion in writing.

Language barriers and hindrance to effective communication

Barriers to effective relay of messages are problems or obstacles that breakdown the process of communication because they alter the smooth flow of intended information between the message’s sender and the receiver (Hussin et al. 2015, 169). In summary, a language barrier is the inability to communicate using a language. Moreover, language barriers are commonly recognized communication barriers that lead to misinterpretations and misunderstandings between speakers of different language. There are various language barriers and might happen at any stage in the process of communication; thus, hindering the achievement of cohesion in writing.

Communication barriers can be classified into mechanical, physical, psychological, social, noise, religious, language and cultural barriers (McKinley 2015, 186). Mechanical barriers are technical interference sources in the impeding the process of communication; such as noisy instruments or machines. Further, the physical communication barrier entails the natural or environmental conditions that function as a barrier in the sending of a message from the sender to the recipient. The psychological aspect is the influence of the attitudes between the sender and receiver of the message that impedes effective transmission of a message. Social elements such as the gender, age, status quo and marital status might function as a barrier to effective communication. Noise is one among the most common communication barriers as it is any persistent or random disturbance which obstructs the clarity of the given message and the entire effectiveness of the communication process. Considering the classification of religious barrier, the primary communication barrier originating from religion encompasses an individual’s lack of information or knowledge regarding other belief systems and beliefs; hence, impacting how individuals communicate with one another. Linguistic barriers, that is, the hurdles in communication faced by people speaking variant languages or even dialects functions as a barrier. Cultural barriers is profound and encompasses facets such as ethnocentrism (perspective of an individual on other cultures), geographical distance, stereotyping, and conflicting values. The different cultural facets impede effective communication; therefore, acting as a communication barrier.

As identified by Santalova et al. (2018, 273), language is one among the most powerful communication tools. However, consequently, language is also a barrier to effective communication. Language barriers also known as semantic barriers can occur when lots of words contain more than one meaning in which the sender or the receiver attempts to communicate in a language not clear or comprehensible to either of them. Further, there might arise some faults or hindrances in the communication system- such as technical issues, defects in the communication systems- which then prevents the intended message from reaching the intended receiver (Mikhchi 2011, 58).

Language barriers originate from five core areas: (1) The origin of the message that entails the sender of the message and how effective or ineffective the message was first crafted (2) How it is relayed by the sender as the individual might relay in a negative attitude; (3) Environmental hindrances such as a too noisy place with constant obstructions; (4) The message’s reception as the receiver might display ethnocentrism which impedes the entire process, and; (5) Comprehension of the message by the receiver- message could be received inappropriately, compromising the original intended message. Therefore, language barriers are impactful on student’s achievement of cohesive writing as they can lead to misunderstandings that might translate to frustrations, violence, emotional turmoil, and poor communication of intended message (Shreve 2017, 162).

Linguistics and Text

As detailed by Kohnen (2012, 169) a text is any passage, spoken, or written in whatever length that shapes a unified whole. Hence, the property of turning out a text is mostly expressed by the texture of the message which then helps differentiate a text from anything else that is not a text. Moreover, it is the cohesiveness of the relations identifiable in texts that grants the texts the necessary texture whereby it can be viewed as a communicative instance that shapes the cannons of textuality. Deeper into the aspect, determination of textuality is ascertained by three facets; the participants, the intended message to be availed, and the setting of the happening. Broadly, the three facets sum up into the seven standards of textuality that Crossley et al. (2011, 291) identified to be known as, “the constitutive principles defining the communicative purpose of a text.” Beaugrande (2011, 289) outlined the seven standards of textuality as follows:

Cohesion: It is the textuality’s first standard whereby the elements of the textual occurrence have a mutual connection within a sequence.

Coherence: Details the facets by which the elements of the textual world are viably relevant and accessible. Further, a coherent text is unified, and provides the impression of hanging together.

Intentionality: It concerns the attitude of the text producer and the set of happenings that should encompass a cohesive and coherent text instrumental in actualizing the intentions and meaning of the producer.

Acceptability: The aspect regards the attitude of the text receiver and the anecdotes of the linguistic resources in which the text should avail the receiver with the ability in perceiving any relevance of the text under scrutiny.

Informativity: Concerns the levels by which the availed information is familiar or unfamiliar to the receiver of the text. Argumentatively, a text is usually informative and has a meaning, regardless of its content.

Situationality: Implies the factors that constitute a text relevant to a scenario of occurrence.

Intertextuality: Refers to the factors that encompass use of the text as determined by the knowledge of an individual or more individuals.

Cohesion is one among the linguistic frameworks of textuality as it functions syntactically and lexically in the attachment of a unified text in creating a viable textual meaning. As detailed by Mikhchi (2011, 49), a text is, “an actual use of language, distinct from a sentence, which is an abstract unit of linguistic analysis.” Hence, based on Mikhchi’s definition, the text is only viable and considerable only if the stretch of a language is produced for communicative reasons. Additionally, the text is supposed to bridge a connection between the reader to the text through transfer of the author’s intentions. Therefore, the reader will not realize the text’s meaning if communication is not clearly undertaken. Conclusively, the text needs to meet the communicative reasons for it to be understood by the reader (Crossley et al. 2011, 291).

Additionally, in a 1987 study by Jerome Neuner on L1 English freshman compositions, the author found out that the collective number of cohesive ties is not distinguishable between a sample of 20 excellent and 20 weak L1 English essays composed by college freshmen (Neuner 1987, 101). However, Neuner concisely found out that longer cohesive chains are characteristic of measures of lexical quality and better essays. The documented results by Neuner are of the suggestion that it is not fundamentally the lexical ties, but the levels and sophistication of the lexical chains that make a higher contribution to stronger essays. Moreover, low-rated learner essays may apply a higher combination of lexical repetition compared to higher-rated essays (Crossley et al. 2011, 305).

Writing and its essence in EFL and ESL Writing

According to (Mikhchi 2011, 71), writing is a reflective activity requiring ample time to think through regarding the topic of interest, after which, careful analysis is conducted for appropriately classifying any acquired background knowledge. Therefore, the writer requires suitable and appropriate language form that will be applied in structuring these ideas in the frame of coherence discourse. Writing and learning is a social act, and a complex activity that is a reflection of the writer’s skills of communication that are sophisticated to develop and learn, particularly in the EFL context (Nino 2014, 487).

Perception of writing can be viewed from three domains; a linguistic framework, a socio-cultural framework, and a cognitive psychological framework. Therefore, in the process of writing approach adopted mostly, EFL writing can be perceived as a multi-facet process encompassing of a cognitive activity influenced by an array of linguistic and contextual aspects; particularly, proficiency in EFL linguistics, psychological, socio-political and socio-cultural problems. Hence, with appropriate addressing of the challenges, writing turns out an appropriate and unforgettable experience (Kohnen 2012, 172).

EFL/ESL writing is a crucial skill in both teaching and learning. Concisely, EFL writing is fundamental in two wider dimensions; firstly, it is a source of motivation to the thinking of the students, organization of ideas, development of the ability in summarizing, analyzing, and criticizing different viewpoints, and secondly, it aids in strengthening the learning, thinking, and reflection outcomes of the students (Neuner 1987, 94). Therefore, in the context of the current study, essay writing is crucial in the learning outcomes of the students as it assists in the primary acquisition of the basic study skills required in comprehension of what the students study and appropriate expression of the outcomes in the student’s own words. Further, the aspect plays a significant role in keeping away the students from specifically memorizing the content, rote learning and plagiarism that impairs academic integrity (Hussin et al. 2015, 165).

The cohesion construct is a representation of one very particular element of a text; hence, a text might contain lots of cohesive facets but still be irrelevant. There is more beyond the semantic links between sentences that proceed above the creation of meaningful and effective texts; genre, layout of the text and framework of information, propositional content, and metadiscoursal features, in addition to lexicogrammatical competence (McNamara, Crossley & McCarthy 2010, 58).

Therefore, the term “coherence” generally can be used to make reference to the constitution of all the dimensions and their interactions with comprehension grasped by the reader in the creation of a unified meaning. There is a broad body of studies which has researched on the probable correlation between the application of cohesive devices in a text and the concurrent text effectiveness and quality which will be discussed further below. The effectiveness of lexical cohesion received greater study with mixed results for grammatical cohesion as detailed in the original framework of Halliday and Hasan (Shreve 2017, 175).

Cohesion in the text

The origins of textual linguistics were laid down by M.A.K Halliday and Ruqaiya Hasan in 1976 in which they defined cohesion as the plethora of lexical and grammatical actualizations existing in connecting a facet of language with what precedes or what follows in a text (Santalova et al. 2018, 275). According to Halliday and Hasan in the 2013 book that was first published in 1976, “Cohesion in English,” the linkage is attained through the existing relations in meanings broadly in the clauses and sentences (Attaprechakul 2013, 91). It is a correlation between an aspect to another that is identifiable in a text. Moreover, it is a linguistics term that that plays a role in the scrutiny of the grammatical and lexical linkage within a text. Additionally, cohesion is broadly through grammar and by some magnitude, through vocabulary in which Halliday and Hasan (2013, 86) inference as grammatical cohesion and lexical cohesion.

Further, cohesion in English language learner’s writings can be treated as a sematic relation whereby, its realization can be attained through the lexicogrammatically viable system (Ahmed 2010, 218). Therefore, the aspect of cohesion in a text can be linked to the correlations in meanings that are existent within the text and that find meanings in the definitions of the text. Further, cohesion happens in instances in which interpretation of some elements in a text are dependent on those of another. Concisely, one presupposes the other in the sensibility that decoding is a hurdle to attain expect by recourse to it (Nino 2014, 487).

Distinctively, grammatical cohesion is attained through reference, ellipsis, substitution and conjunction while lexical cohesion is expressible through the sub-domains of reiteration and collocation (Crossley & McNamara 2010, n.p). Creation of cohesion by reiteration occurs when repetition of an item happens later in the text as the same word, a synonym or a superordinate. Reference tie is applied in pre-determined and subsequent frameworks within the same kind of text. They are inclusive of but not limited to personal references; for instance, demonstratives, pronouns, and determiners. Ellipsis ties ascertain cohesion within a text by giving the allowance for an author to ignore an item, which Halliday and Hasan termed as “zero” substitution (Halliday & Hasan 2013, 82). Substitution comes up with viable cohesion through the replacement of one item with another. Hence, a substitution tie within a text is applicable in replacing words for another. It is functional in which the latter word in the text acts as the replacing element and is applied in lieu of repetition of the former clause or word in the text. Collocation as argued by McKinley (2015, 193), is the inclusiveness of more than one word that has the likelihood of happening within the same kind of context. It translates to cohesion creation through the linkage of lexical items that repeatedly co-occur.

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Moreover, other linguists such as Beaugrande and Dressler identified five dimensions that play a part in the unity of a text in English; recurrence, parallelism, paraphrase, proforms, and ellipsis (Kwan & Yunus 2014, 142). Additionally, linguists such as Philips and Hardy proposed eight frameworks of cohesion: Word repetition, synonyms, substitution, ellipsis, superordinate and generals, opposite and linked words, reference, and connectiveness (McNamara, Crossley & McCarthy 2010, 61). Hoey (1991) further into the area of cohesion argued that when cohesive elements are combined, they translate into broader stretches of a text. Moreover, Hoey asserts that all cohesive devices, other than conjunction, have an element of repetition in similarity (Fareed, Ashraf & Bilal 2016, 92). Hoey’s assertion was an improvement of the 1976 theory of cohesion by Halliday and Hasan. The framework adopted by Hoey in analyzing cohesion, further justified and made it easier in grasping the variations between the Halliday and Hasan’s three facets of grammatical cohesion through appropriate conceptualization along with lexical items, as correlations in cohesive reference chains. Simply, Hoey did not assert that more syntactic links, such as pronoun reference, were not essential, but concisely that they were not considerable as variant from the constituting of cohesive reference chains attained by lexical repetition (Shreve 2017, 171).

Writing and Cohesive Errors in Language Learners

Previous studies have attempted to incorporate the Cohesion Taxonomy by Halliday and Hasan in the identification, description, and classification of the cohesive devices present in written EFL and ESL texts written by students (Bahaziq 2016, 116). The Taxonomy has also been applied in identification and classification of cohesive errors in additional student’s writing. Hence, the researchers came up with a concise definition of cohesive errors as the made errors under the five broader dimensions in Halliday and Hasan Cohesion Taxonomy (Santalova et al. 2018, 279). Moreover, as argued by Kwan and Yunus (2014, 153), research in the aspect of cohesion takes two facets; performance approach analysis and error analysis. The former emphasizes the correctness and erroneous application of cohesive devices in which the research aims on the features of cohesion. The latter approach applies error analysis in investigating cohesion in the written texts of the learner as was earlier on mentioned in the document. The approach focuses on the erroneous and challenging manipulation of cohesion in variant forms of writings.

The weak writing skills of a teacher might adversely influence their students’ writing skills. Further on the approaches of performance approach analysis and error analysis, Kwan and Yunus in 2013 undertook a study to investigate the cohesive errors in the writing of English as an ESL pre-service teacher in variant proficiency in language levels in both the Medium Level and High Level in Malaysian University English Test (MUET) (Al Badi 2015, 67). 30 pre-service teachers were chosen to write 200-word narrative essays which were later scrutinized and the cohesive devices together with the cohesive errors described. The study found out that the Medium Level pre-service teachers made the most errors in lexical cohesion, reference and conjunction sections of cohesion as compared to their High Level counterparts. However, the latter too made errors but emphasized on lexical cohesion, reference and ellipsis. But cumulatively, both groups were found out to have inadequate mastery in cohesive writing. Hence, first determining a teacher’s writing weaknesses and reinforcing their writing skills is imperative in addressing the cohesive errors that might be present in addition to teaching the cohesive devices in the fortified linguistics courses (De Beaugrande 2011, 286).

Inference and interpretation in cohesion writing

According to Bahaziq (2016, 117) the study of inference in relation to coherence in the texts focuses on the reader’s contribution in the supply of information that is not availed in the text but can be understood as a section of the intended information of the writer. In simpler terms, the making of inferences occurs when connections are ascertained by readers in bridging the gaps in the texts (Kwan & Yunus 2014, 135). Further, the perspective of inference in natural language is a rather loose perception in comparison with the that which is taught and learnt in wider scopes. Unfortunately, inference has not been granted much attention by linguistic theories as it fails to develop essays other than the approaches in the contemporary world linguistic. Moreover, the acclamation by linguists holds that approaching inference is better undertaken intuitively rather than applying the analytical approach (Neuner 1987, 96).

Unfortunately, there is a limitation of past empirical research on inference in authentic texts. In 1994, Martha Shiro undertook research in which she scrutinized three sections of readers on a journal article for inferences (Crossley & McNamara 2010, n.p). From her experiment, Shiro came to the conclusion that inferences are normally shaped by having meaning relationships above the levels of sentences through two broader frameworks; either with other sections of the text or through information relation on the previous knowledge of the reader in which much of the textual comprehension is attained by inferences of textual application. Additionally, Shiro’s research ascertained that readers of English language writings, have the possibility of holding two contradictory inferences concurrently; of which one might reject based on the presented information later in the text. However, Santalova et al. (2018, 279) argued that in order for to limit making additional inferences, the student or the teacher can apply the “built-in stopping mechanism” that assists in preventing further inferences once a bridging of a certain gap happens.

Cohesion measurement and achievement in writing

One among the most encountered challenges in language barriers and cohesion in writing is synthesizing how cohesive dimensions feature in the appropriate measurement of cohesion (Yang & Sun 2012, 45). Further, the challenge fosters ambiguity in the reporting of criteria and used procedures in appropriate identification of cohesive devices. It is a hurdle in articulating the disagreements between the present study results and the legitimate differences viable in the cohesive devices. For instance, Crossley and McNamara (2010, n.p) cast a broader net in the selection of cohesive devices, only considering the definite article “the” as the token of reference cohesive dimension, of which its justification would only be through certain contexts such as those raised in the second-mention pedagogical rule.

Nevertheless, the challenge can be addressed using the Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) which was a theory developed in analyzing the application of words by the contexts that they appear in (Attaprechakul 2013, 85). Conceptualization of LSA can be achieved in two variant approaches; (1) It is a “practical expedient” used for estimation of the correlations between different words and segmentation of the texts; (2) LSA is a model that depicts how the human brain acquires, digests, represents and applies knowledge. Moreover, LSA was identified by Kohnen (2012, 174) as an essential tool in representation of cohesion and coherence in learner production which is also in line with the traditional measures of development and acquisition of language.


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Attaprechakul, D., 2013. Inference Strategies to Improve Reading Comprehension of Challenging Texts. English Language Teaching, 6(3), pp.82-91.

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