A cross-linguistic analysis of the writing of prospective first year students in Xhosa and English.

20 Oct 2011

This article aims to characterize typical linguistic and discourse features of academic writing in Xhosa and English among prospective Xhosa-speaking students at the University of the Western Cape so as to account for strengths and weaknesses in the writing and provide possible ‘points’ for pedagogic intervention. It presents an analysis of a sample of entrance essays written by these students in English and Xhosa. The analysis is in terms of a framework which considers aspects of argument, register and syntax. It aims to highlight strengths and weaknesses in student writing and to ascertain the extent to which these characteristics are language-specific or cross-linguistic. The results of the analysis suggest that the ability to argue coherently in an appropriate register is the defining mark of good writing in any language, and that control over the syntax of the language is particularly important for these students when writing in English. The ability to write well, like certain aspects of style, seems to be a generic ability and affects students’ performance in both languages.