English and Chinese of different thought patterns, with English being analytical and Chinese integrative. Under the guidance of the different thought patterns, the writing patterns of the two languages differ. ESL learners’ native thought pattern may result in the flaws even mistakes in their English writings. Therefore, a contrastive study on the thought pattern differences may be of great help for ESL writing.
Key words: thought pattern difference ESL writing.
Writing is an integrated embodiment of one’s language ability. Studies show that ESL learners are more or less troubled by the fact that their ESL writings are far from being satisfactory judged by the standards of the native speakers. The problem may be discussed from different perspectives; thought pattern difference is the focus of the paper.
Hu Shuzhong (1989) defines thought pattern as the way in which a person tends to think basing on experience, beliefs, learning and reason. English and Chinese are of two greatly different cultures as well as two different thought patterns which will result in differences in many aspects of writings: thesis statement, discourse organization, and rhetoric devices application, etc.
1. Thesis Statement
Implicit thesis statement is a flaw in the writings of Chinese ESL learners. Thesis is supposed to provide the stance, the belief, or the point of view of the writer; or it states the purpose of the essay and conveys the central or main idea of the text. Lu Chunmei (2013) conducts a survey on the differences of thesis statement placement between Chinese and English students. Her finding shows that out of the 98 Chinese participants in her survey, 42.3 % place their thesis statements at the beginning of their writings, 4.9 % in the middle, and 32.5 % of them do not make their thesis statements clear until at the end of their writings, or even fail to express an explicit viewpoint. As for the 20 English participants, 85 % of them put the thesis statement at the beginning, and the rest 15 % in the middle; none of them fail to express their opinions clearly.
Chinese and western thought pattern differences may partly explain Lu’s finding. According to Robert Kaplan (1966), the English thought pattern is linear, which is also termed deductive thought pattern or general-specific thought pattern. It goes from general to particular, from abstract to concrete. Thus, by the thought pattern, a paragraph is usually linear in its development, beginning with a topic sentence, developing by a series of detailed sentences supporting the topic sentence by examples and illustrations, finally concluding by restating the topic sentence. Moreover, English writer-responsible culture requires the writers to put forward their opinions right at the beginning of their writings.
Unlike the explicit placement of the thesis statement in English writings, implicitness is a common feature of the thesis statement placement in ChineseESL learners’ compositions. ChineseESL learners, due to their indirect thought pattern, are likely to spiral around and around the point without stating what it is or until the very end of the passage. Besides, brought up in reader-responsible culture, they hold that it is the responsibility of the readers to read between the lines to understand what the writers intend.
As for native English readers, they want to know the main point directly at the front, and the rest of the passage to be structured as a point-to-point argument to prove that the main claim or thesis is valid. So, most of them are not patient enough to read till the end to find the main point of the Chinese ESL learners’ writings, let alone the passages of which the thesis statements are implied, not clearly stated, but within the lines. Moreover, in Chinese ESL learners’ writings, due to their rhetoric habits, historical and religious texts as well as proverbs are frequently put at the initial part of the discourse to take the place of the thesis statement to ornament and enliven discourses. However, that only seems to be unconnected, distracted and even talking nonsense to the native readers.
2. Discourse Organization
Chinese ESL learners’ difficulties in producing colloquial discourses are mainly reflected in passive voice deficiency, lack of cohesive devices, and casual paragraph arrangement.
2.1 Passive voice deficiency
Since ancient Greece, westerners have the tradition of valuing the study of nature, taking nature as their cognition object, believing that people can use the nature by understanding it; they can conquer the nature by exploring it. Westerners clearly distinguish self-awareness from objective world and study the nature as an object outside them. Hence, their thought pattern is analytical. Passive voice, as a commonly used grammatical device in English, is usually used to reveal facts, to treat the world objectively; therefore, it has become an expression habit of the English speakers.
In China, under the impact of the Confucianism and Taoism, people tend to regard man and nature as an integrated whole. That results in the integrative thought pattern. On that basis, the subject gets involved in the object, and the object is integrated into the subject. People are likely to start a discourse from “self” actively rather than to be acted upon passively or from something objective. Such a tendency may partly account for the deficiency of passive voice among Chinese ESL learners.
For example, the English expression of “门开了”is “The door was opened”. According to the analytical thought pattern, “the door” is inanimate; it can not perform the action “open”, but be opened by someone; so passive voice should be applied. While on the basis of the Chinese integrative thought pattern, “门”is the subject of the sentence, so no passive voice is needed. That is why the unacceptable expression “The door opened” and the alike never fail to occur in Chinese ESL learners’ writings.
Chinese is a left-branching language which makes sentences from subordinate clause to main clause, that is, the less important information is put in the front of the sentence. Such a rhetorical habit may also account for the deficiency of passive voice in Chinese ESL students’ writings, since it is in conflict with the highlighting function of passive voice. For example:因为风太大，我们必须推迟比赛。“风太大”is the old information, and “推迟比赛”is the new. Due to the negative transfer of their mother tongue, Chinese learners are likely to work out the following translate: Because of the strong wind, we must postpone the competition.English, on thecontrary, is a right-branching language. Within a sentence, the main information is usually put at the beginning in the main clause to achieve eye-catching purpose and the minor information in the following subordinate clause. Such a rhetorical habit coincides with the topic-stressing function of passive voice. Therefore, English writers are much better at using passive voice which is used to prepose and emphasize themes. Hence, a better and acceptable translate is: The competition must be postponed due to the strong wind.
2.2 Lack of cohesive devices
English is a hypotaxis language, in which the completeness of form and clear logical relationship among sentences are emphasized. The cohesion of English discourses is mainly achieved by means of conjunctions, relative pronouns, relative adverbs, etc. Hence the coherence of English discourses is overt.
Quite different, Chinese is a parataxis language, in which conjunctions are much less frequently used than in English, largely due to the intuitional thought pattern of the Chinese culture. Thus the coherence of the discourses is covert, depending on the understanding of the readers.
Due to the difference, the English discourses produced by Chinese ESL learners usually are logically unclear and hard to read for the native readers, for the reason that they are spoiled by the lack of cohesive devices. For example: Pollution has become a serious problem, we should take steps to control it.It’s no hard for Chinese learners to understand the sentence, which appears to be Ok in the parataxis Chinese, in which the logical relation between two clauses is realized via their order in the sentence: the cause goes before the effect. While in English, the sentence is unacceptable because of the lack of conjunction to explicitly present the cause-effect relationship between the two clauses. Only when the two are connected with a conjunction, for example, since, can the sentence be semantically cohesive: Since pollution has become a serious problem, we should take steps to control it.
2.3 Casual paragraph arrangement
Paragraph arrangement is closely related to the thought pattern to which the language belongs.
Directed by their analytical thought pattern, westerners are inclined to divide the whole things into parts and then analyze each of them one by one. Bander (1978) states “In composing a paragraph, a writer discusses only one topic or one aspect of the topic. This characteristic of a paragraph is known as a singleness of purpose. The paragraph often begins with a statement of its central idea, known as a topic sentence, followed by a series of subdivisions of the central idea. These subdivisions have the purpose of developing the topic sentence, preparing for the addition of other ideas in later paragraph.”Therefore, most English paragraphs are conventional separate units of thought arranged in hierarchical order to follow a straight line of development rather than arbitrary ones.
Under the influence of the integrative thought pattern, the Chinese tend to be holistic, attending to the entire field and assigning causality to it. Such a thought pattern emphasizes that everything in the world is correlative to each other. The arrangement of paragraph in Chinese makes little use of categories and formal logic but mainly depends on “dialectical” reasoning. Therefore, the common mistakes of Chinese ESL learners’ paragraph arrangement are several units of thought reflected in one paragraph and one unit of thought reflected in several paragraphs. They are the examples of casual paragraph arrangement according to theEnglish standard.
Moreover, native writers seldom combine background information, events and dialogues into one paragraph. However, Chinese learners tend to start the opening paragraph with set expressions or proverbs as background information introduction, and then put forward topic sentence or list out further arguments. For example, in many of the argumentative writings about the latest achievement in a certain field, the expressions like“with the development of science and technology” and “since reform and opening-up”, are frequently used, which, for the native readers, seem to be redundant or of no relevance in the paragraph where they occur.
3. Rhetorical Devices Application
English and Chinese are of two different cultures, so the images of certain entity are quite different too. The loves of one may be the hates of the other.
For example, the metaphorical meanings of “dog” in Chinese and English are quite different. Dog is a lovely animal in the eyes of the westerners. It is taken as their loyal friend and the first choice for pet pick. But in Chinese, “dog” means quite differently. It is usually used derogatively to refer to the despised, the disliked or even the hated. A similar example is the different metaphorical uses of “dragon” in Chinese and English. Dragon is taken as the totem of Chinese nation. It is the symbol of “power”“authority”“talent”and “good luck”. The Chinese, abroad or at home, all call themselves the descendants of dragon (龙的传人). Such an expression is hard for the westerners to understand, since dragon, in their culture, is a synonym of the woman who behaves in a fierce and frightening way. So when “dog” and “dragon” are used as vehicles when metaphor is applied in writing, the Chinese ESL learners should take their English associative meanings into consideration, since their Chinese connotations will result in misunderstanding on the part of the native readers.
The fulfillment of writing requires not only the union of words, sentences and the discourses, but also the styles and patterns meeting the needs of the culture in which the language develops. Thought pattern, being a carrier of culture, is decisive for the success of writing. As for ESL learners, being fully aware of the differences between one’s native thought pattern and that of the target language, they will make their writings better meet the standards of the target language.
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