Coherence in academic Italian

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The hypothesis behind the ITACA project - Coherence in academic Italian - is that the academic writing of upper secondary school students is diversified and incomplete and that their written productions reflect motivational, sociolinguistic and behavioural factors. The project’s objectives are:
1) analysing texts written by a significant sample of about 500 native Italian speakers (L1) in upper secondary schools, with regard to textual coherence and discourse relations of an argumentative type.
2) examining the correlations between the textual skills of the sample and their motivation, sociolinguistic background and behaviour.
To this end, we will collect about a thousand texts (2 per student, a synthesis and an argumentative text) written in Italian by fourth-year students of all the high schools in the Province of Bolzano. The students will also take a language competency test in Italian and a questionnaire on specific factors related to writing and reading. Eurac Research’s working group, with a team of specially trained staff, will evaluate the quality and degree of coherence of the texts and annotate discursive relations. Annotation will happen both manually and automatically, with the help of NLP (Natural Language Processing) methods and their recent applications for Italian. Appropriate control measures will ensure that the tools can be used reliably for data collection, analysis and evaluation.
The main expected results are:
1) A final report.
2) Recommendations for the valorisation and promotion of writing that will support representatives of school policy, teachers, students and parents in implementing initiatives and strategies to foster the acquisition of good text writing skills.
3) A learner corpus, annotated with information on discourse relations and described by metadata, which shall be available for (free) consultation and download on Eurac Research’s website.
At international level, ITACA is a contribution to the few empirical studies on academic writing in L1 with a focus on textual coherence and in a language other than English.
At national level, the elements of innovation are to be found in the focus on coherence, in the combination of different approaches (textual linguistics, sociolinguistics and NLP), as well as in the size of the sample and the use of different tools for data collection and analysis. The last two are elements that increase the generalizability of the results.
At local level, ITACA is the first study ever on writing competency in Italian (L1) and therefore fills a research gap. It completes research carried out so far on German L1 and Italian L2.
Finally, the use of semiautomatic methods for the analysis of textual coherence is the first application on written texts of Italian L1 learners.

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Journal article
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