The Use of Contrastive Discourse Markers by Saudi Female Undergraduates

Background of the Study

Trujilo (2003) established that there are various discourse markers such as but, well and oh among others. The author defined the discourse markers as the tools which enable to apply the discourse functions in diverse styles. The author proceeded to indicate that Fraiser (1998) viewed the markers as a growing market in the field of linguistics. In essence, the author proceeds to establish that many scholars have not agreed on how to define the manner in which they should be defined resolutely.

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Although there has not been such agreement on the definition of discourse markers, there have been detailed research studies that seek to explain the markers. Fraser (1999) also reiterated the same position whereby it was stated that the discourse markers have different meaning for given category of researchers. In fact, the author reveals, in the research, that discourse markers have been referred to as connectives, operatives, discourse cues phrases (Fraser, 1999).

Essentially, the author reached a point of harmonizing the various definitions to make a near conventional definition. As such, he stated that the discourse markers are words that create a relationship between the segmentation they belong and the prior parts of the sentence. With such a definition, Fraiser (1999) suggested that they facilitate the writing of coherent work in linguistics.

Whereas discourse markers have been researched by various scholars, Trujillo (2003) observed that the focus has been shifted from the discourse markers as a vast topic to discussing on the specific types of discourse markers. In accordance to this research study, there aware various types of discourse markers as shown in this table below either corresponding examples in each case for the purpose of comprehending.

Type Examples
Contrastive However, in contrast, nonetheless
Appositive For example and That is, i.e)
Corrective markers Precisely, rather, at least
Dismissive in case
Summative in short
Verifactive Actually, as matter of fact, and in fact
Additive And
Adversative But
Variative Instead
Temporal Then
Comparative Similarly
Conditional If
Concessive Yet
Respective In respect, accordingly

Table 1: Showing the various discourse markers in English where the focus has shifted (Trujilo, 2003).

Whereas the sentiment indicate the shift has focused on specific markers shown above, the contrastive discourse markers have evoked great interest sue to the critical role they play in an attempt to develop a cohesive writing. In fact, researchers have been focusing on various specific aspects of the CDMs in their respective jurisdiction and learning institutions. Importantly, Fraser (2010) focuses on the sequencing of discourse markers. This research disregards other DMs such as the elaborative and inferential markers. In another research, Frase and Turner (2009) studies contrastive discourse markers with regards to the use of a particular one (on the contrary). These research studies show clearly that the study of discourse markers have become more specific to the types and the application. As such, it is crucial to focus on them with a sense of specific scope.

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Accordingly, this research study seeks to study the contrastive discourse markers with regards to their use and application in Qasim University in Saudi Arabia. Evidently, this is a case in which the students are second language speakers (ESL). Since English is not their first language, they incur more difficulties when applying the contrastive discourse markers. It is therefore important to study those difficulties and come up with detailed descriptions of how teachers can help to improve their use.

Problem statement


As mentioned and discussed in the introductory statements, it is evident that the learners in higher education, especially when it comes to the universities, consider writing a difficult undertaking. Evidently, also, there have been critical reluctances in practice regarding the field of writing in English. As a result, there students lack the repertoire for contrastive discourse markers when writing their English-related work.

With such limitation of the discourse markers, the writing skills become affected such that the students are deemed to use a limited number of the markers repetitively. In addition, there are cases in which the contrastive discourse markers are used wrongly. In this scenario, the students end up developing sentences that have a different meaning from the intended one. Whereas this problem is stated singly, there are three sub-problems that have led to this condition as shown in the next three paragraphs in form of areas.

Area 1: Second Language

In the background section, Al-Seghayer (2013) suggested that English is a second language in Saudi Arabia. In this case, the author has also identified that this language was introduced in the country to enable Saudi Arabia to communicate with the foreign countries. Since this is one of the major characteristics of the Saudi Arabian people, there is a crucial challenge with the use of contrastive discourse markers.

Due to lack of the authentic use of the language, Chen (2009) stated that the use of CDM in such a scenario is learned through the comprehensive learning of the language. Indeed, the students do not have preliminary knowledge on English as compared to the natives (Chen, 2009). As such, Lin (2010) established that the understanding of English originates from the teaching in class completely. As a result of this condition, the teaching of CDMs is the only tool of instilling the proficiency of using them (Chen, 2009). This is conjoined to another finding by Li (2010) whereby he established that the teaching profession has a large workload to tackle in the teaching of the CDMs’ use when dealing with ESL.

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The author based the sentiment on the fact that before training the use of contrastive discourse markers must be preceded by the basic skills of English writing.. While focusing on the use of CDMs, the teaching of these markers cannot be treated as an isolated aspect in grammar (Jones & Lock, 2010). Indeed, the three authors proceeded to advise that the CDMs must be taught along other skills in order to instill the skills effectively.

Area 2: Teaching Styles

The manner in which grammar is taught is a crucial factor that determines whether the students will be well-versed with the contrastive discourse markers or not (AlFuraydi, 2013). In this regard, the author proceeded to suggest that the teaching styles related to the training of discourse markers are essential to the attainment of the needed repertoire. However, a research conducted by Jones & Lock (2010) stated that teachers are used to teaching the discourse markers in general approach.

He elaborated that a general approach implies that the teachers do not consider training the students concerning the application of the contrastive discourse markers as a topic. In addition, the teaching styles are also affected by the lack of implicative connection between teaching and promotion of reading (Alseghayer, 2013). In essence, Verplaetse (2008) stated that teaching the writing skills should prompt the students to engage in active reading behavior.

However, Alfuraydi (2013) found out that the general teaching styles that combine contrastive discourse markers and other grammar-related topics do not provoke the students to do this. Further, it has been established that the teaching of discourse markers is done in an explicit manner (AlSeghayer, 2013). In fact, Wright (2010) noted that general approach leaves the students with the challenge of identifying the areas in which they can apply each of the contrastive discourse writing. As such, the knowledge is conveyed as mere exposure to the contrastive discourse markers without critical use that provokes the mind to understand the areas of use (Alqurashi, 2011).

Area 3: Assignments

Soliday (2010) discovered that assignments given in class have also led to critical deficiencies when it comes to the use of contrastive discourse markers. The author explained that the students receive assignments that only identify some of the discourse markers without the practical application. In addition, Sullivan, Tinberg & Blau (2010) noted that if the assignments incorporate the application part, they do not prompt the students to study specific contrastive discourse markers.

For example, the authors stated that most teachers do not prompt students, by use of the class assignments, to study a given marker such as (instead). Indeed, Jone & Lock (2010) discovered that the lack of the specific assignment creates a scenario in which students take a range of markers and study them at once. It concentrates on the quantity of markers that will be studied rather than the quality of how the markers are studied (Soliday, 2010).


In the above exemplifications, it is clear that the students in universities experience deficiencies when it comes to the understanding and use of the contrastive discourse markers. This is caused by the lack of critical thinking among students which is considered as one of the most effective ways of instilling the three stages of learning, including understanding, evaluation and application. In addition, the teaching styles used by teachers are general such that the discourse markers are taught explicitly without showing their application.

Further, it was established that the lack of specific lessons that focus on these discourse markers is also a great factor that affect the effectiveness of the teaching styles. Lastly, the assignments are theoretical in nature. This reinforces the disadvantages occasioned by the theoretical teaching approaches. As such, the assignments also seek to test the number of markers that the students understand rather than the depth of conceptualization.

Background and Need


In essence, there is an urgent need of discussing the use of discourse writing since they play a vital role to ensure that the students can write effectively. Understandably, they are used extensively to ensure that the writer can develop the ideas that should be included in the writings. In addition, they determine the cohesiveness of the writings. As such, it becomes important to focus on the aspects which may lead to poor conceptualization of the contrastive discourse markers. In addition, it is crucial to propose some practical solutions to some of these problems that have been developed in paragraph 1.2. This way, the writing skills will be improved with the aim to increase the conceptualization of the markers and prompt student to engage in active reading. Further, this undertaking will enable students to come up with multiple ways of applying the markers correctly.

Area 1: Solution

Critical thinking is a skill that I developed through continuous and persistent engagement of the mind. Indeed, in involves the students’ engagement in answering questions. In the process of answering a practical inquiry, students are mandated to read and come up with crucial aspects that can answer the underlying question. As such, this termed as a very effective way of learning in both grammatical and scientific fields of studies since it provokes the mind. Further, the use of critical approach to reading and tackling assignments is the surest basis of fostering creativity. The use of discourse markers cannot be improved by means of theoretical conceptualization of the markers. Instead, the skills are developed and improved by instilling the sense of creativity among the students.

This implies that this style of training and approaching the conceptualization as well as the application of contrastive discourse markers is fundamentally vital for the Saudi students in higher education. Accordingly, the students should be exposing themselves to involving questions that require serious and diligent investigations (Alsaif & Milton, 2012). In this regard, the processes of investigating the question provide the opportunity for the students to come up with good sentence constructions that include the correct use of the contrastive discourse markers. Indeed, the main player in this process is the students because the willingness to engage in the critical thinking approach must be a self initiative although teachers should also encourage this undertaking when teaching in class.

Area 2: Solution

Teaching styles play a crucial role when it comes to determining the extent to which student conceptualize and apply the contrastive discourse markers. In essence, it was stated in the paragraph 1.2 that the teachers are used to teaching the discourse markers in an explicit manner. In other words, this implies that the students are subjected to scenario in which they learn the markers plainly.

It implies that the students are not exposed to challenges that prompt to apply their knowledge with regards to the use of discourse markers. However, whereas the teachers are reluctant to approach the training in a practical manner, the art of writing is a realistic venture that tests the extent to which learners can apply what they have learned (Bukhary & Bahanshal, 2013). This way, it becomes difficult for the students to write effectively bearing in mind the teaching styles which are just theoretical. As a result, the teachers should consider involving students in active application of the contrastive discourse markers.

In addition, they should consider teaching the markers singly in order to ensure quality of understanding rather than the quantity of the markers. In order to achieve the required proficiency in the use of CDMs, Jones & Lock (2010) proposed that teachers should adopt both explorative and practical approaches. The author suggested that the use of these two styles help student to get better understanding of the CDMs. Particularly, they established that explorative approach helps student to look for as many CDMs as possible while practical assignments enable them to apply the markers. Accordingly, the two researchers found that the styles are essentially complementary of each other and hence effective.

Area 3: Solution

In addition to critical thinking and teaching styles, the assignments tackled by the students determine whether they can use the makers effectively or not (ElNaggar, 2012). In this regard, it has been established that the assignments are the most crucial aspects since they help the students to apply what has been taught and develop their critical thinking capabilities (Gawi, 2011). As such, teachers should ensure that the assignments facilitate the application of theoretical knowledge obtained from the class work. This should be done is a manner that call for answering some involving questions to prompt critical thinking. In addition, the students are critical players in this case bearing in mind that Alhaison (2012) stated that the focus of academic improvement has shifted from teachers to students

Purpose of the Study

This research is meant to close a research gap that regarding to the application of the contrastive discourse markers in English. It has been established that there lacks research concerning the use of the CDMs in Saudi Arabia (Wedell & Alshumaimeri, 2014). With this research gap, there is every reason to conduct a detailed and informative research on the understanding and application of the mentioned CDMs. In other words, the research is seeking to investigate the phenomenon in linguistics related to the use of the CDMs among female undergraduates in Saudi Arabia.

In particular terms, it seeks to explore the use of these CDMs in the writing skills among the target population in Saudi Arabia. It focuses on aspects such as the frequency and correctness of application. The entire undertaking is meant to propose a strategy of developing the prevalent teaching styles, the critical thinking capabilities, and the types of assignments that are given to the students. As such, the integrated focus ensures that the students are capable of writing effectively to come up with cohesive and comprehensive work in English. Essentially, this entire venture will be fulfilled by the following objectives.

  1. To investigate about the type of contrastive discourse markers that are used by the Saudi Arabian undergraduates
  2. To explore the challenges incurred by the students in their attempt to apply the CDMs and develop their coherence in writing.
  3. To identify the various teaching approaches which are used by the teachers in class in order to develop strategies that may improve the teaching of CDMs.

Research Questions

In consistency with the three objectives, there are three research questions that will be considered for the research study.

  1. What are the types of contrastive discourse markers used by the female students in Saudi Arabia?
  2. What are the challenges that face the female students when using the contrastive discourse markers?
  3. What are the teaching styles adopted by the teachers when focusing on the contrastive discourse markers?

Significance of the Study

After the completion of this study, there are various benefits which will arise from the findings that will be obtained. First, the research will determine the types of CDMs used by the students in order to identify the areas of improvements. In essence, this improvement will be based on the extent to which the students understand the CDMs and how they apply them in their writing skills. Secondly, the research will determine the teaching styles used to train students about the CDMs.

As such, this will act as a platform of creating developmental strategies in the teaching career. Lastly, it will expose some of the critical challenges that impede the effective use of the CDMs. As a result, it will be possible to come up with ways of meeting these challenges and eliminating them completely to ensure that learners are proficient writers.

Definition of Terms

Discourse Markers (DMs) – These are words that do not change their true meaning and when removed from a sentence, they do not alter its meaning (Saqlain, 2013).

Contrastive Discourse Markers- This is a subset to the DMs which includes the markers that provide a turning point to the previous statement (Khan, 2011).

Discourse Competence- Basically, this is the ability of people to express themselves in a particular language whether in writing or speech (Reda, 2013).


This research has two limitations as follows;

  1. It focuses on the female students and disregards the males students.
  2. It is limited in terms of jurisdictional scope since it only focuses on students studying from Qas University.

Ethical Considerations

When it comes to ethical considerations, the research will ensure that the information obtained from the respondents is confidentially stored. In addition, the collection of data will be preceded by a formal application for permission to conduct the study. This will be done by sending a formal letter to the administration to ensure that it is acknowledged as a legal practice.

Dissertation Overview

The dissertation will contain five chapters, including the introduction, the literature review, Methodology, Results and analysis and conclusion. The literature review introduction includes aspects such as the background of the study, the research questions, purpose, and ethical consideration among other items. The literature review will include an evaluation of previous literature that has been done in the past. After this, the methodology will be presented to show how data was collected and analyzed. The result and analysis section will provide details on the data that was obtained during the collection and proceed to analyze it. Lastly, the findings drawn from the analysis will be use to make conclusions and recommendations.


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