Managing referential movement in Asian L2 writing

Implications for pedagogy


  • Peter Crosthwaite University of Hong Kong



Asian L2 English writing, definiteness, pronouns, reference, coherence, miscommunication


The introduction and tracking of discourse referents is a central feature of discourse coherence, alongside considerations for temporal, spatial and causal features. However, while much attention is usually paid to the management of temporal, spatial and causal language in L2 writing course materials and curricula, it is apparent that the appropriate management of reference in L2 writing is often overlooked. Typically associated with the label of cohesion (Halliday & Hasan, 1976), current research from pragmatics (notably Ariel, 1991, 2008, 2010) suggests that writers and readers are sensitive to the accessibility of referents in extended discourse, which is dependent on a variety of cues including salience, parallelism, number and type of competing referents, etc. The writer’s choice of referring expressions (i.e. full NP, pronoun, zero) at any given time thus reflects their belief regarding a referent’s accessibility to their intended reader. In L1 discourse, accessibility-mediated marking of reference is considered a pragmatic universal, despite different L1s marking accessibility in different ways. Recent research into L2 discourse, particularly Asian L2 discourse (e.g. Kang, 2009; AUTHOR, 2014a; Ryan, accepted, in press) has suggested that the appropriate introduction and maintenance of reference by L2 learners is problematic - despite the universal distribution of form/function found in L1 discourse – with learners often under or over-explicit in their reference management, or frequently miscommunicating entirely. This has serious implications for the overall coherence of the L2 discourse produced. The proposed paper explores the root causes of the failure of Asian EFL students to manage reference coherently in L2 writing, then focuses on how such management can be improved pedagogically. The paper proposes additions to L2 writing materials and in-class activities that would help improve L2 reference maintenance, including picture sequence descriptions, silent film retellings and collaborative writing projects designed to maximise the potential tracking of reference over extended discourse sequences.

Author Biography

Peter Crosthwaite, University of Hong Kong

Peter Crosthwaite is Assistant Professor in the Centre for Applied English Studies at the University of Hong Kong.



How to Cite

Crosthwaite, P. (2017). Managing referential movement in Asian L2 writing: Implications for pedagogy. Writing and Pedagogy, 8(3), 539–560.



Reflections on Practice