Revolution Lullabye

January 26, 2009

Bartholomae, “The Study of Error”

Bartholomae, David. “The Study of Error.” In The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook. 338-352.

Instead of dismissing the writing of basic writers as illogical and/or meaningless, Bartholomae argues for using the linguistic strategy of error analysis (often used by second language learners research) to learn the patterns of langauge use that basic writers rely on to think and compose so that composition teachers can track their progress and know better how to help them with their writing. Error analysis isn’t a perfect fit for composition, however, because it was intended for speaking exercises, and many basic writers’ errors come from the actual physical work of writing, the performance of composition rather than the conceptualization of arguments and ideas. However, the technique, which involves students reading back and consciously correcting their own prose, has three positive outcomes for composition instructors: it can help diagnose the problems a student writer is having, it can teach students a method for reading and self-correcting their errors, and it can help teachers see how their students, over the course of a semester, are growing and developing as academic writers.

Quotable Quotes

“We need to refine our teaching to take into account the high percentage of error in written composition that is rooted in the difficultly of performance rather than in problems of general linguistic competence” (349).

Errors that come from the “physical and conceptual demands of writing” and “the requirements of manipulating the print code” (351).

Errors are “stylistic features, information about this writer and this language” (342).

“When a basic writer violates our expectations, however, there is a tendancy to dismiss the text as non-writing, as meaningless or imperfect writing” (339).

“We have read, rather, as policemen, examiners, gate-keepers” (339)

We need to “treat the language of basic writing as language and assume, as we do when writers violate our expectations in more conventional ways, that the unconventional features in the writing are evidence of intention and that they are, therefore, meaningful, then we can chart systematic choices, individual strategies, and characteristic processes of thought” (340)

Notable Notes

All language use is idiosyncratic. The distance between a text and the accepted convention is just greater with a basic writer.

interlanguage/ intermediate system

have a writer read his own text to see what the maning is.

problem with error analysis: people learn correct written English not just aurally, but also visually. Also, the difficulty of intention: written error analysis asks for interpretation and analysis of the reason behind the error. The analyst has to first interpret the text, not just describe what’s there.

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