Rhetoric's Outliers in Second Language Writing | Jay Jordan


As I noted, I have focused so far on a select number of rhetoric's co-occurrences with other terms and concepts. Scholars interested in exploring my corpus further are welcome to use the Voyant Tools "Trends" utility embedded here:

(For static images of select Voyant tools, please refer to the Appendix.)

Again, this webtext uses corpus-based analysis of select scholarship in second language writing to trace and visualize nuances of how rhetoric is defined and applied in the field. Further research on rhetoric's circulation and definitions in second language writing could expand the scope of my initial exploration and/or employ more quantitative methods and tools. While the Journal of Second Language Writing and TESOL Quarterly remain the most prominent journals in the field, L2 writing scholarship appears in a wide range of publication venues in applied linguistics, composition studies, professional and technical communication, and writing across the curriculum, to name a few related bodies of scholarship. The combination of software-enabled bigram searching and closer reading I have applied here could easily apply to a much larger corpus—a project that might require Jason Palmeri and Ben McCorkle's (2016) collaboration and negotiated workload in order to maintain a balance of qualitative and quantitative analysis. Since even my limited investigation reveals that rhetoric's circulation in second language writing connects it to numerous other terms and concepts, it is likely that growing the corpus might grow the number and complexity of the connections. In that event, topic modeling could be a useful way to detect and visualize both eruptions and consistencies at much larger scales than I observe here.

Rhetoric has been and will continue to be a vital concept for second language writing however defined, modified, and applied. As JoAnne Liebman (1992) and Paul Kei Matsuda and Dwight Atkinson (2008) argued, it is long since time to work to clarify what rhetoric means. However, there has never really been a stable answer to the question of rhetoric's definition—a condition simultaneously intellectually rich and pedagogically challenging. To be sure, "rhetoric" does not go by a single authoritative definition even in the broad, related field of rhetoric and composition, and I do not mean to suggest that L1 compositionists are necessarily clearer about their uses of the term than L2 writing colleagues are. (Indeed, I suspect corpu-based exploration of rhetoric's circulation in journals such as College Composition and Communication and College English would reveal patterns similarly multiple and unsuspected.)

As nebulous as its scope can be, though, rhetoric is a powerful name for learning and doing with language and other symbol systems no matter the rhetor's language background, and its prevalence across what Matsuda (1999) memorably called the "disciplinary division of labor" between L2 writing and composition suggests that scholarly focus on how rhetoric is named, how it circulates, and how it relates to other terms/concepts can point to common ground that is still needed nearly twenty years after Matsuda's observation. But that common ground can only be metaphorical: "rhetoric," appropriately rhetorically, erupts, clusters, and circulates—at times (as my observations here suggest) seeming stable for now in specific teaching applications but characteristically eluding too–stable applications all along. More apt than common ground, then, common methods of reading for rhetoric's definitions and productions, both closely and more distantly, could permit scholars with disparate disciplinary histories and investments to track rhetoric's history in multilingual writing pedagogy and to anticipate its evolution.