A corpus-assisted study of Chinese EFL learners' development of academic literacy

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


English language instruction in China has grown dramatically in recent decades to now be considered one of the largest English as a Foreign Language (EFL) populations in the world (Lam 2002; Wang and Gao 2008). As China advances on the world stage, the need for increased proficiency in written, institutionalised discourses expands. However, current English pedagogy often precludes explicit linguistic instruction of the resources necessary to achieve these registers (Hu, 2005). Therefore, the present study seeks to explore learner development through a longitudinal analysis of learner texts.
Using a Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) theoretical framework, this study aims to identify the ontogenetic development of Chinese EFL learners’ academic literacy through an examination of grammatical metaphor (GM), the key linguistic resource for construing academic registers (Halliday, 1998; Schleppegrell, 2004). This research follows one hundred and thirty Chinese university learners across four consecutive semesters. The data collected for this analysis comprises the Chinese Learner Longitudinal Corpus, a specialised, diachronic learner corpus consisting of five hundred and twenty exposition essays. To ensure an empirical analysis of the learner texts, this thesis designs an integrated methodology to examine GM delicately through the qualitative descriptions of SFL and extensively, through the computational resources of Corpus Linguistics (CL). Furthermore, this exploration of the Chinese learners’ ontogenetic GM development elaborates the current SFL framework of analysis to include detailed, intermediate stages of GM deployment.
The findings from this adapted theoretical and methodological examination reveal detailed pathways of development the Chinese EFL learners follow when developing the resources of GM. The thesis concludes with a discussion of these pathways and the pedagogical implications of how an approach to academic literacy in the EFL classroom, informed by SFL and supported by CL methodology, can contribute to a focused syllabus that will empower learners to successfully achieve advanced academic tasks.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Sydney
  • Bednarek, Monika, Supervisor, External person
  • Martin, J. R., Supervisor, External person
Publication statusUnpublished - Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • grammatical metaphor
  • corpus linguistics
  • systemic functional linguistics (SFL)
  • academic literacy
  • English as a foreign language
  • English for Academic Purposes


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