Title

Construction of evaluative meanings in IELTS writing: an intersubjective and intertextual perspective

Year

2009

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Faculty of Education

Abstract

The interpersonal dimension of language use has attracted growing interest in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) for its important role in representing the writer’s evaluative position in a text and in constructing successful interpersonal relationship between the writer and the reader. The present study explores the construction of evaluative meanings in English for second/foreign language (ESL/EFL) writing under exam conditions – still an under-explored area in EAP research. This study analyses short argumentative essays written in response to Task 2 of the Academic Writing Module of the International English Language Testing Systems (IELTS) as a high-stakes gatekeeping genre by drawing on Appraisal theory and Genre theory developed within Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) as well as the theory of intertextuality. In so doing, it focuses on the linguistic and rhetorical resources deployed by IELTS writers to construct the intersubjective relationship between the writer and the reader and the intertextual relationship between the task prompt and the exam script. The findings of the research demonstrate that there are differences in linguistic choices of evaluative resources depending on grades awarded. Specifically, the study provides important insights into the distinguishing features of successful and less successful IELTS texts in terms of the degree of the writer’s dialogical or subjective engagement with the reader as well as the degree of intertextual density between the examination response and the task prompt as construed in the choice of what is evaluated (i.e. appraised). The results suggest that the evaluative patterns which can be identified through the different ‘voices’ that the IELTS writer projects in the IELTS task provide insights into what is valued in more successful IELTS writing. The study makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the interpersonal expectations which are ‘hidden’ or implicit in the current IELTS assessment criteria in the public domain. The tentative framework on intertextuality put forward in the study extends the current description of engagement resources captured in the existing Appraisal theory. The study has practical implications for effective IELTS preparation courses.

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