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Investigating the Role and Variability of Miscellaneous English Cohesive Devices Across Registers

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Gholamhossein Bahrami photoAs throughout our lives we deal with a great variety of texts and discourses, we intuitively know what lexical and syntactical patterns we should use when we want to produce discourse appropriate to certain situations. Text producers and recipients also feel that in some cases they are free to choose from a variety of linguistic means to express their communicative purposes, while in others there are strict regulations imposed on what lexis and syntactical structures to use. Thus, the paper aims to investigate frequency and distribution of cohesive devices across registers. To do so, the major groups of cohesive devices were taken into consideration: lexical cohesive ties, referential cohesive devices, ellipsis/substitution cohesive ties, and discourse markers taken together with conjunction. The results obtained prove that lexical cohesive devices, being members of open systems, prevail in the texts belonging to different registers. Distribution of different types of cohesive devices within the general framework is, however, influenced by register. Closed registers give preference to lexical cohesion at the expense of reference, ellipsis and substitution.


Cohesive devices are typically single words or phrases that basically make the text hang together. By analogy, they are much like the seams in our clothing which keep items like jackets and trousers together. Accordingly, thanks to their importance, the paper presents a study of the correlation between cohesive devices (their distribution and frequency) and different registers. The issue was chosen due to the fact that the correlation between register and cohesive devices has not been thoroughly investigated in the field of applied linguistics. According to Bell (1991, p.165), the two concepts of cohesion and coherence, despite their differences, share a crucial characteristic as follows: they both hold parts of a text together by making series of meaning. As the concern of researcher is about cohesion and cohesive devices, it is necessary to provide some information concerning these two issues.

Cohesion is illustrated by Bell (1991, p. 165) as:

One of the standards of textuality that makes use of formal surface feature (syntax and lexis) to interact with underlying semantic relations or underlying functional coherence to create textual unity; cohesion is achieved by means of sets of markers of cohesive relationships.

In this definition, it is clear that cohesion is made of “…the mutual connection of components SURFACE TEXT within a sequence of clauses and sentences” (ibid); Cohesion is then involved in controlling and selecting from the options available in the mood system; subject, predicator, complement, adjunct, etc. In contrast, Coherence is created by the formation and arrangement of the concepts and relations of the textual word which lies beneath and realized by the surface text. It is worth to note that the concept of cohesion can be completed by the concept of register because these two elements together define a text. Awareness of the features of textual register noticeably guarantees that a translation sufficiently expresses hard aspects of cohesion and coherence (Hatim and Munday, 2004).

Hatim and Munday (2004) suggest that the role of register analysis is crucial in finding cohesive elements and ensuring the coherence of the text. As an element of standard of textuality, cohesion is one of the factors that affect the quality of translation dramatically. Newmark (1987) as cited in Baker (1992, p. 180) says: “the topic of cohesion… has always appeared to me the most useful constituent of discourse analysis or text linguistics applicable to translation”. Therefore, this can be an interesting topic for analyzing a translated text.

Halliday and Hasan’s (1976) seminal work, cohesion in English is a very good source about cohesion. They stress: “we need a term for one occurrence of a pair of cohesively related items. We shall call this cohesive tie or device” (p. 3). The concept of cohesion in Halliday and Hasan’s view is a semantic one. It refers to the relationship of meaning that exists within or between sentences within the text. Cohesion takes place where the interpretation of some element in the discourse is contingent upon another element. The one presupposed the other in the sense that it can’t be effectively discovered except by recourseing to it. When this happens a relation of cohesion is established and two elements, the presupposing and presupposed ones, are at least potentially hang together to form a text (Halliday and Hasan, 1976). This relation, as Halliday and Hasan (1976, p. 6-7) state, is a relation between sentences which makes a linkage between different parts of a text, paragraph, sentence and other parts. This relation is something different from the relations which link different parts within the sentence. If each text consisted of only one sentence, there would be no need to go beyond the category of structure of sentences to illustrate the internal cohesiveness of a text. In other words, a text typically exists beyond the series of structural relations. When the term cohesion is used, it means non-structural text forming relations; that is semantic relations and makes a text a semantic unit.

Larsson (1984, p. 389) argues that “cohesion does not stop at boundaries of grouping”; rather, it hangs them together. By grouping he refers to the addition of smaller structures such as clauses to make a bigger one such as sentences. Halliday and Hasan (1976) define the concept of cohesion as the range of possibilities that exist for linking something here to the previous items. Since this relation obtains through meaning, one is concerning about the set of meaning relations that function in this way; that is the set of semantic recourses that are used for the purpose of creating a text. Cohesion can be interpreted in practice as the set of semantic recourses for linking sentences that has gone before. In this case, one has to show how sentences which are structurally independent may be linked together through particular features of their interpretation. The simplest form of cohesion is that the presupposed element shall be verbally explicit and be found in the immediately preceding sentence.


[1] Did the gardener water my garden?

- He did so.

This example shows a norm in cohesive relations and forms a model for cohesion which in turn makes its theoretical point despite its simplicity. There are two points of departure from this norm. The first one is that the presupposed element may be placed anywhere in earlier sentences or in the following one which is an example of endophera (textual) reference that can be anaphora and cataphora respectively. The second one is when one can not find the presupposed element anywhere in the text so it is called exophora (situational) reference (Halliday and Hasan, 1976).

Now it seems necessary to show the place of cohesion in the description of English: The following Table is provided by Halliday and Hasan (1976, p. 29).

Table 1.1

The place of cohesion in the description of English

The place of cohesion in the description of English

So far, it seems evident that the concept of cohesion is really linked to the meaning. The assessment of quality of translation is also related to the meaning so, analyzing cohesive ties can be an apparatus for assessing translation. Investigating cohesion in ST and TT is a good way to appraise the meaning of original and translated version. Then by comparing them one can notice how much of the meaning is transferred in the process of translation and how much is lost; and the quality of translation in the scope of meaning as far as of cohesion is concerned is being revealed.

According to Richards and Schmit (1992, p.86), the concept of cohesion refers to “the grammatical and/ or lexical relationship between the different elements of the text”. Considering this definition in mind, the following cohesive devices can be enumerated:

Reference: reference refers to semantic relationship between words and things that they stand for. This term in semantics conveys the relationship between words and to what they are pointed in the real world. In Halliday and Hasan’s model (1976) this meaning is provided in restricted way; reference is limited to the relationship of identity which holds between two linguistic expressions.

Conjunction: words that join word phrases and sentences together. This cohesive device involves use of formal markers to relate sentences, clauses and paragraph to each other. This tie is important because it shows the writer’s directions about pieces of information which is provided and it has four kinds namely, additive, adversative, casual and temporal (Baker, 1992).

Substitution: as defined by Bloor and Bloor (1995, p. 96): “substitution is used where the speaker or writer wishes to avoid repetition of a lexical item and is able to draw on one of the grammatical resources of the language to replace the item”. Baker (1992, p. 186) defines this tie as being a grammatical relation in which “an item (items) is replaced by another item (or items)”.

Ellipsis: is by nature like substitution by nothing as defined by Halliday and Hassan (1976). Baker (1992) defines it as the process in which an item is omitted

Lexical Cohesion: Bloor and Bloor (1995, p. 100) argue that: “lexical cohesion refers to the cohesive effect of the use of lexical item in discourse where the choice of an item relates to the choices that have gone before”. Baker (1992, p. 202) defines this tie from another angle: “lexical cohesion refers the role played by the selection of vocabulary in organizing relation within a text”. Lexical cohesion has two aspects as reiteration and collocation.

Now, regarding the distribution and frequency of the above mentioned cohesive devices, the following discussion is of great use:

The Distribution and Frequency of the Lexical Cohesive Devices:

Lexical cohesion comprises the following categories of lexical ties. Simple lexical repetition comprises cases (Hoye, 1991) when a lexical item that has already occurred in a text is repeated with no greater alternation than is explicable in terms of a closed grammatical paradigm. For example, was looking is a simple lexical repetition of looked. Following Hoey, complex lexical repetition occurs when two lexical items share a lexical morpheme, but are not formally identical, or when they are formally identical but have different grammatical functions. For example, drug and drugging, or human (n) and human (adj). Synonymy is understood rather widely here to include the repetition of a synonym, near synonym, or the use of a general word (Halliday and Hassan, 1976). The class of general nouns is a small set of nouns having generalized reference: e.g., person, thing, stuff, etc. Under synonymy, we also include such lexical items the cohesive effect of which depends not so much on any systematic relationship as on their tendency to share the same lexical environment, situation, or to occur in collocations with one another: candle -flicker, beach -sunshine, hair -comb, etc. Hyponymic repetition includes the use of superordinate. Meronymy describes pairs of lexical items related as part to whole, while antonymy -pairs of opposites (Ellis, 1992).

The Distribution and Frequency of Referential Ties

Reference first evolved as an exophoric relation, and the basic referential category of person was deictic. Naturally, the first and second persons I and you retain their deictic sense, whereas the third persons, he, she, it, or they, although possible to use deictically, are more often anaphoric or cataphoric – they point either back to the preceding text or forward to the following information. Therefore, of the personal pronouns only he, she, it, and they are treated as fulfilling a cohesive function, while I, you, and we are purely exophoric and, consequently, not taken into account in this research. Other types of reference considered are:

  • Demonstrative reference understood as reference by means of location on a scale of proximity (expressed by determiners this, these, that, those, locative demonstratives here, there, and temporal demonstratives now, then).

  • Comparative reference contributes to textual cohesion by setting up a relation of contrast or contrast and is expressed by such adjectives as same, identical, equal, adjective in a comparative degree, and adverbs such as identically, likewise, so, such, etc.

The Distribution and Frequency of Ellipsis / Substitution-type Ties

Substitution and ellipsis are variants of the same time of cohesive relation. When ellipsis is used, we presuppose something by means of what is left out. A substitute serves as a place-holding device or some pro-form, showing where something has been omitted and what its grammatical function could be. Ellipsis as well as substitution help to avoid repetition and depend entirely on the hearer’s / reader’s ability to retrieve the missing information from the surrounding co- text. According to McCarthy (1991), ellipsis is the omission of elements normally required by the grammar which the speaker / writer assumes are obvious from the context and therefore need not be raised. Both substitution and ellipsis can only be used when there is no doubt as to what is being substituted or ellipted. Otherwise, the result might be total confusion.

The Distribution and Frequency of Discourse Markers

The last group of analyzed cohesive devices is discourse markers. The term itself is two-facet. On the one hand, there are linguists (Stubbs, 1995) who argue that discourse markers are purely conversational. Examples can be well, like, right, so, now, okay, and the like. On the other hand, there are language researchers (McCarthy, 1991; Aijmer, 2002) who claim that the term discourse markers embraces not only conversational words but also conjunctions.


1. The distribution and frequency of cohesive devices depend directly on the degree of “openness” of, i.e. the more open the register, the more various cohesive devices are being employed and vice versa. In addition, the correlation between register and cohesive devices is one of the main issues considered in applied linguistics, because the study of language presupposes the textual integration which is substantially obtained through the application of cohesive devices.

2. Lexical cohesive devices are the most extensively used ties in texts belonging to different registers. They constitute the major part of cohesive ties in all the three varieties of texts, therefore the study of lexis could be considered as the study of the major part of cohesion. Simple lexical repetition is the most often used cohesion-ensuring cohesive device as well as the most steady way of pointing to some particular referent.

3. Reference, constituting the second major group of cohesive devices, is clearly register-dependent: restricted registers employ more lexical ties at the expense of referential cohesive devices, while in open registers reference is used extensively. The prevailing type of referential items is personal pronouns, while possessive pronouns are much fewer due to the fact that they are restricted in their grammatical distribution: they require a recoverable head noun, or they are limited to special construction types. This explains the overall frequency of these forms in relation to personal pronouns. Substitution / ellipsis type ties are also register-dependent – more usually employed in open registers and avoided in the restricted ones. Demonstrative pronouns refer, mostly in more restricted registers, back to the bigger parts of the discourse – preceding sentences or paragraphs – relating them in this way.

4. The analysis also shows that ellipsis / substitution tend to occur in open registers more often than in restricted ones. It is also universally acknowledged that substitution and ellipsis belong to the realm of conversation, dialogue or fiction.

5. Discourse markers are used more or less equally in all registers because they do not hinder the interpretation of the message and can be considered neutral in comparison to other cohesive devices.


1. Aijmer, K. (2002). English Discourse Particles. Evidence from a corpus. John Benjamins Publishing Company.

2. Baker, M. (1992). In other words: A coursebook on translation. London & New York: Routledge.

3. Bell, R. T. (1991). Translation and translating, theory and practice. London and New York: Longman.

4. Bhatia, V. K. (2004). Worlds of Written Discourses. Continuum.

5. Bloor, Th., & Bloor, M. (1995). The functional analysis of English, a Hallidyan approach. London and New York: Arnold.

6. Ellis, D. G. (1992). From Language to Communication. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

7. Esser, J. (1993). English Linguistic Stylistics. Max Niemeyer Verlag.

8. Halliday, M. A A. K., Hasan, R. (1976). Cohesion in English. Longman.

9. Hatim, B., & Munday, J. (2004) .Translation: An advanced resource book. New York: Routledge.

10. Halliday, M. A A. K., Hasan, R. (1991). Language, Context and Text: Aspects of Language in a Social-semiotic Perspective. Oxford University Press.

11. Hoey, M. (1991). Patterns of Lexis in Text. Oxford University Press.

12. Larson, M.L. (1984). Meaning-based translation. London & NewYork: University Press of America.

13. McCarthy, M. (1991). Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press.

14. Newmark, P. (1988). A textbook of translation. Hertfordshire: Prince Hall international.

15. Richards, J. C., & Schmidt, R. (2002). Dictionary of language teaching and applied lingustics. (3rd ed.). UK: Longman.

16. Stubbs, M. (1995). Discourse Analysis. Basil Blackwell.

Published - August 2009

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