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The Effect of intended audience on language functions in written argument at two grade levels Craig, Sydney G.


Despite the emphasis in current composition theory on the importance of the intended audience for written composition, there is little evidence of audience effects on written composition before students reach high-school. In contrast, there is considerable evidence of audience effects on children's oral language. The present study explores the possibility that the lack of evidence of audience effects on written composition is an artifact of the measures that have been used. Measures for this study were derived from studies of children's oral language in the hope that they might provide insight into the effects of audience on written composition. The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of audience on the use of five language functions (Controlling, Relational, Informing and Interpreting, Theorizing and Projecting) in written arguments by students in grades 6 and 11. Students wrote four compositions, one on each of two topics for each of two audiences, with presentation of audiences and topics counterbalanced. Audiences were teacher and best friend which are differentiated in terms of relative status. One hundred nine complete sets of four compositions were subjected to functional analysis. Statistical analysis revealed audience effects for three functions. Students at both grades used more of the Controlling function and the Relational function for the audience of best friend, and more of the Theorizing function for the audience of teacher. Compositions intended for the high-status audience were more objective, more impersonal, and contained less diversity of function. In contrast, compositions intended for the same-status audience were more conversational, more personal, and contained more diversity of function. Analysis also revealed grade and topic effects. Results of this study suggest that audience effects can be discerned in compositions by students in elementary school if appropriate measures are used. This study thus provides empirical support for the emphasis on audience in current composition theory. It also signals the need for new meaasures in further studies of audience effects on written composition.

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