An investigation of syntax, semantics, and rhetoric in the English writing of fifteen Thai graduate students

Siriphan, Salakjit
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Texas Woman's University

The purpose of this study was to examine and analyze the writing of Thai students at the graduate level in order to discover their writing problems in the areas of syntax, semantics, and rhetoric.

Fifteen Thai students enrolled at an intensive language institute of a southwest public university volunteered to be the subjects in this study. These subjects had acquired their college degrees and had formally studied English as a foreign language for at least eight years in Thailand prior to coming to the U.S. They were asked to write an essay on the topic of "My First Week's Experience in America." They also answered two questionnaires, one on their English background and the other on their composing processes. Then the researcher identified and classified syntactic and semantic errors in all of the fifteen essays, using an error taxonomy developed and adapted from several studies. Errors were divided into two categories (syntactic and semantic) with 15 concomitant subcategories. Possible sources of errors were conjectured according to suggested error-analysis theories and the information attained from the interviews with the subjects. The rhetorical styles and the students' composing processes were also examined to see if cultural differences between Thai and English influenced the thinking and writing of these students.

The results of this study showed that verb errors ranked first in the syntactic error category, followed by awkward expressions in the semantic error category. Possible sources of these errors included interlingual interference, intralingual interference, transfer of training, ignorance of rule restrictions, cultural thought patterns, memory limitations, and other affective variables. Most of the Thai students in this study admitted that English rhetorical style was never known to them prior to their coming to the United States, so they wrote according to what they thought was appropriate. They spent very little time in the invention process.

The results of the investigation revealed that Thai students in this study made errors both on syntactic and semantic levels. Errors which should receive first attention were those on verb, word-choice, preposition, and whole-construction. The English essay organization should also be taught to Thai students.

Syntax, Semantics, Thai students, Linguistics