Is there a correlation between form and function? A syntactic and functional investigation of the introductory it pattern in student writing

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Abstract

The introductory it pattern, as in ‘It is important to note that information was added’, is a tool used by academic writers for a range of different rhetorical and information-structural purposes. It is thus an important pattern for students to learn. Since previous research on student writing has indicated that there seems to be a correlation between form and function of the pattern, the present study sets out to investigate this more systematically in non-native-speaker and nativespeaker student writing in two disciplines (linguistics and literature). In doing so, the study adds to and extends previous research looking into factors such as NS status and discipline. It uses data from three corpora: ALEC, BAWE and MICUSP. The results show that there is indeed a correlation between form and function, as the most common syntactic types of the pattern each display a preferred function and vice versa. While very few differences across NS status were found, there were certain discipline-specific disparities. The findings, which could be useful for teaching students about the use of the introductory it pattern, also have implications for the automatized functional tagging of parsed corpora.

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