Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies

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Interaction as 'involvement' in writing for students: a corpus linguistic analysis of a key readability feature

E Hilton Hubbard


The rapid change in the demographics of South Africa's tertiary level student population over the last decade — and most specifically the huge increase in those who have to study at a distance through a medium that is not their first language — has intensified efforts to improve the readability of distance learning material. This paper focuses mainly on one particular aspect of readability, namely 'human interest' (Flesch), and elaborates this concept in terms of Biber's textual dimension of 'involvement'. With the assistance of a concordancing programme, a comparison was carried out in terms of this dimension between an earlier version of a Unisa study guide and a later one, which the writers had intended to make more reader-friendly. The later guide, which can be deemed to have been a major factor in the higher success rates of students on the later course, was found to reveal not only higher general readability values than the earlier guide, but also significantly higher involvement values. Thus this paper exemplifies one kind of application of corpus linguistics, linking Biber's involvement dimension with readability and highlighting the connection between involvement, or interaction, and effectiveness in writing for students.

(S/ern Af Linguistics & Applied Language Stud: 2001 19(3&4): 231-240)

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