Patterns of multiple theme and their role in developing English writing skills

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This paper looks at patterning in multiple themes in written English. Adopting a view of theme in declarative SVO clauses which extends up to the grammatical subject and its non-restrictive postmodifications, and building on an earlier study by Smits (2002), it uses corpus data to identify three major patterns, labeled “stepwise”, “focalizing” and “grounding”. All three patterns are used by advanced learners of English in their writing, but the stepwise pattern is significantly overused while the others are underused. In light of the relevance of these patterns for writing text conforming to the C levels of the Common European Framework of Reference, the paper argues for the development of study and exercise material making use of data from learner corpora.


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