Use of signalling nouns in a learner corpus

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Signalling nouns are nouns which have cohesive properties across and within clauses. A signalling noun is potentially any abstract noun the full meaning of which can only be made specific by reference to its context. Examples of nouns which can function as signalling nouns are attitude, assistance, difficulty, endurance, process, reason, result etc. Signalling nouns in discourse are closely associated with nominalisation and are problematic for learners. Based on a corpus of argumentative essays written by Cantonese L1 learners of English, this paper presents a taxonomy of error types and frequency data of the different error types in the use of signalling nouns. The paper then compares the average number of signalling nouns used per essay with grades awarded to the essays, on the one hand, and the numbers of signalling noun errors according to grades, on the other. In both cases there is a significant correlation. The findings confirm the intuitive idea that the use of signalling nouns adds to the overall coherence of a text.


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