The Relationship Between Thematic Progression and English Discourse Coherence: An Investigation Based on some University of Zambia Students' written Discourse
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This study investigated the relationship between thematic progression patterns and English discourse coherence in the written pieces of discourse produced by a sample of University of Zambia students registered for the 2009 Academic Year in the School of Education and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. The purpose of the exercise was to establish the types of theme-rheme patterns used by students at different levels of study at the University of Zambia in order to determine the extent to which these patterns enhanced discourse coherence. The investigation was motivated by informal complaints from lecturers about lack of coherence in most of the students' written pieces of discourse. Two types of patterns were examined: those which enhanced coherence and those which obscured it. The former included simple linear, constant, derived hyper-thematic and split progression while the latter included brand new theme, empty rheme, incomplete split progression, split-theme progression, empty use of there, use of dummy it, and use of conversational personal pronouns. The data were collected from 200 scripts comprising samples of written pieces of discourse produced by students at four academic levels of study which are: first year, second year, third year and fourth year as part of their normal coursework test and examination tasks. Of the 200 scripts, 50 were drawn from each of the four academic levels. From each script, coherence-enhancing and coherence-obscuring theme-rheme patterns were identified and categorized according to types. As regards data analysis and interpretation, the study adopted both qualitative and quantitative approaches. Each of the findings was categorized further according to the set research objectives. The major findings indicate that there is a relationship between thematic progression patterns and discourse coherence in that there was evidence of discourse coherence in the scripts which had adhered to the application of the coherence-enhancing thematic progression patterns and lack of coherence in those which had applied other patterns. It was also observed that the type of question and level of study were important attributes to determining the type of patterns to use. It was further observed that the constant progression pattern was the most dominantly used pattern by students at all levels of study. In some cases, there were combination of either constant and linear progression or linear and constant progression patterns. Arising from the findings, the study has made some recommendations for enhancing coherence in the written pieces of discourse produced by University of Zambia undergraduate students. The most notable of these is that upon entry into the university all students should be introduced to the application of theme and rheme patterns which enhance coherence in written pieces of discourse in order to equip them with relevant academic writing skills.