Sunday, March 11, 2012

Article Review: Ansary, H. & Babaii, E. (2009) - A cross-cultural analysis of English newspaper editorials


A Review of...

An Analysis and Evaluation of Ansary, H. & Babaii, E. (2009). A cross-cultural analysis of English newspaper editorials: A systemic-functional view of text for contrastive rhetoric research. RELC Journal, 40(2), 211 – 249.

Based on the assumption that different cultural backgrounds influence writing structure, Contrastive Rhetoric seeks to illuminate in which ways and to what extent these differences occur. Recently, however, the method also has been growing in popularity as a means to find the “universals” in language. Such is the case in the present study. Published in 2009 by the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation (SEAMEO) in their Regional Language Centre (RELC) journal, the article addresses macro-rhetorical structures from three different contexts by comparing 30 English newspaper editorials written by native speakers with 60 English editorials written by non-native speakers to analyze the rhetorical structure and to determine if there is a Generic Structure Potential (a.k.a. Rhetorical Formula) that transcends cultural boundaries.

Summary

The stated purpose of the study was to “characterize the global and/or macro-rhetorical structure of English newspaper editorials and formulate…‘the Generic Structure Potential’ (GSP) of a genre,” as well as to determine and to explore the differences in the rhetorical structure of an editorial between cultures (Ansary & Babaii, p. 212).

The data was collected using a corpus of editorial sections of English-language newspapers available online. The authors narrowed the scope of their data by applying B. B. Krachu’s 1985 “Circles Model” to the collection process, and from there, they further narrowed the data pool by choosing one newspaper from a country from each of the three circles. From each newspaper, 30 editorials from 2003 and 2004 were selected for the final data.

According to this conclusions, an English-language editorial (no matter what the native language of the author) “consists of four obligatory elements (Headline, Addressing an Issue, Argumentation, and Articulating a Position)” (p. 233). However, there were different GSPs (Generic Structure Potentials, a.k.a. Rhetorical Formulas) for each different native language of the author and the context of the editorial, which involved the optional elements and their possible arrangements. These findings suggest a universal rhetoric for editorials. The implication of this conclusion is that, since they do not inherently contain a new, unique, or separate rhetoric, newspaper editorials are an easy pedagogic tool for language education contexts.

Evaluation

This research had several strong points, one of which was the effort made to ensure content validity and reliability. The researchers were careful and self-critical, involving other scholars in the development of their coding system and thoroughly testing of the validity and reliability of their system. In order to make sure that the study was as reliable and construct-valid as possible, they had their analyses reviewed by an outside post-graduate researcher, who was able to critique the elements of the study and offer suggestions for revision. Inter-coder and intra-coder reliability coefficients were both in the .80 to .89 range, where degrees of agreement as low as .61 have been considered valid and dependable in the past. Another strength of this paper was the background information given to put the study in context. The study contained synopses of past research that applied to the current issue and applied what had already been learned to the problem at hand.

There were also, however, quite a few elements of the study that may have affected the outcome of the study. Ansary and Babaii note three of these in the paper, however, they failed to mention several other issues that presented themselves in this research:
  1. the relatedness of the Iranian and Pakistani languages (as both are members of the Indo-European language family) could skew the results of the study, not to mention the possibility that their geographical proximity has had an effect on the development of a similar rhetoric;
  2. the data selection did not contain a representative sample, as the editorials were chosen by what the researchers teemed a “purposeful sampling technique,” and as such, needs to be considered in light of this caveat;
  3. the size of the data set (90 total editorials) was relatively small in comparison to both the number of native speakers of English, Iranian speakers of English, and Pakistani speakers of English, as well as to the number of available editorials, and therefore is not sufficient to contain the entirety of 3 countries’ rhetorical norms;
  4. no information was given on the subject of the editorials, which could also have a significant impact on the structure/format chosen to present the editorial-writer’s opinion; and
  5. the study presented no background information on the editorial-writers, leaving open the possibility that even though the writer may reside in the United States, Pakistan, or Iran, he or she might have been born or raised in another cultural context, and thereby not be a true representation of that circle’s or county’s rhetoric.

Aside from the issues mentioned above, this study is well-done. The suggestion that there is a universal formula for newspaper editorials has implications for using the genre in foreign language (and culture) teaching, especially as it relates to the affective issues of feeling successful in language learning. The study has some flaws that make the conclusions less reliable, but overall, the idea and applications seem to be unique and interesting.

While the study might not be the model for research in this methodology, it certainly is a model that can help to inform further similar studies. It provides an example for background information and insight into processes that are not available from a simple methodology description, and even the weaknesses present an “anti-model” from which students of research can learn.

References 
  • Ansary, H. & Babaii, E. (2009). A cross-cultural analysis of English newspaper editorials: A systemic-functional view of text for contrastive rhetoric research. RELC Journal, 40(2), 211 – 249.
  • McKay, S. L. (2006). Researching second language classrooms. New York: Routledge.
  • Weng, C. Y. (Ed.) (2010). RELC Journal: A journal of teaching and research. Retrieved from http://www.sagepub.com/journalsProdDesc.nav?prodId=Journal201741


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