This research project investigates how advanced learners of German as a foreign language (L2) establish cohesion in their academic L2 writing. To enable effective and reader-oriented written communication in academic and professional settings, language learners must develop the ability to create cohesion, which is a crucial component of advanced communicative competence. This means that L2 learners must learn to use grammatical and lexical devices appropriately to signal the logical structure of a text to readers, connecting words into sentences, paragraphs, ideas and texts. Since the use of cohesive devices is highly language-dependent, cohesion is an important aspect of the language acquisition process, transcending traditional grammar–vocabulary distinctions.
Given the importance of cohesion in high-quality writing, it is surprising that the cohesive devices deployed by language learners have received little attention in second language acquisition (SLA) research to date. While there is a growing body of research into cohesion in translation studies, which has led to theoretical insights into how languages differ in terms of cohesion, SLA research into cohesion has been limited to a handful of studies in advanced L2 English writing. SLA research into other languages – including German – has until now largely neglected cohesion as an important aspect of language acquisition. A similar lack of attention to cohesion has also been witnessed in L2 pedagogy, where cohesion is often neglected (e.g., in learning materials). As a result, L2 writers often make non-nativelike choices with respect to cohesion, even at advanced stages of language proficiency.
Our project sets out to fill the two gaps above by proposing a comprehensive analysis of cohesion in academic L2 German writing, more specifically, summary writing. Our aim is threefold: (1) analyse similarities and differences in the use of cohesive devices by native (L1) and non-native (L2) writers in German; (2) investigate specific characteristics of cohesion in learners with L1 Dutch. To this aim, we will compile, annotate and publish a corpus of texts written by advanced Dutch-speaking L2 learners of German and (3) suggest fruitful applications of our theoretical findings to L2 pedagogy. We will adopt repeated contrastive corpus-based analysis, which is a new method consisting, in our project, of the comparison of three purposefully selected comparable corpora: (1) an existing corpus of summaries produced by L1 writers of German, (2) an existing corpus of summaries produced by L2 writers of German with different L1 backgrounds and (3) our newly created corpus of summaries produced by L2 writers of German with L1 Dutch. In so doing, we contribute to the growing body of learner corpora, which are gaining momentum in SLA research. In addition, we advance the theoretical knowledge of learner language by identifying L1-specific and L1-independent characteristics of cohesion in academic learner language, using novel methods and proposing evidence-based innovation in advanced L2 pedagogy.