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Expressing Logical Relationships


By Stephen Aldersley, Ed.D.
Department of English
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
Rochester Institute of Technology

Language has various mechanisms to show relationships among and between ideas. At the level of discourse, for example, a writer communicates the relative importance of individual ideas by expressing them in a particular sequence. Conventions relating to paragraph organization also allow the writer to show relationships among ideas. Thus, the "main idea" of a piece of writing normally appears in some form or other in the introductory paragraph. How succeeding paragraphs are organized communicates, again at a discourse level, how individual ideas are related to each other. The relationship between ideas can also be expressed at the sentence level--both between sentences and within sentences. This module is designed to explain some of the ways English does this.

Words and phrases whose function is to express relationships between ideas are termed "connectives." In grammar, there are several classes of connectives. The two main classes are "conjunctions" and "conjunctive adverbs." "Prepositions" constitute a third class, fulfilling a similar role within sentences.

While ideas may relate to each other in many different ways, there are some common logical relationships that deserve special emphasis. These include (a) the additive relationship, (b) the oppositional or contrastive relationship, (c) the time relationship, (d) the reason-result relationship, (e) the conditional relationship, and (f) the example relationship. Perhaps precisely because these relationships are so common, the language has developed many different ways to express them.

Many students learning English, including deaf and hard-of-hearing students, experience some difficulty distinguishing and using the many different words and phrases that express relationships between ideas. The difficulty is threefold. First, it is necessary for students to have a good grasp of how ideas can relate to each other conceptually, at the "pre-language" level, if you like. Second, there is the problem of being familiar with the lexical items (words) themselves that constitute connectives. And third, there is the problem of knowing the syntactic rules that govern the use of connectives.

As with any sub-area of language usage, the rules that govern the expression of logical relationships at a general level are not easy to get across. In addition, the choice of one connective as opposed to another, while natural to the native speaker of English, is often quite subtle, and not easily amenable to discussion in terms of general rules. Nevertheless, there are rules that can be taught and learned, and the student who likes to learn language using a consciously analytical approach can benefit from study of those rules.

This module begins with sections on the role and use of conjunctions, conjunctive adverbs, and prepositions. It then offers a detailed examination of how English expresses the six major relationships listed above at the sentence level. The module goes on to offer guided practice in a variety of formats aimed to help the student learn the more basic rules governing the use of connectives in English. Finally, it provides Action Steps for teachers that address the challenge that the expression of logical relationships in English poses for deaf students.

Major Considerations

1. The ability to appropriately express logical relationships between and among ideas is an indispensable requisite for success in writing English.

2. The ability to comprehend how logical relationships are expressed in English at the sentence level and between sentences is an indispensable requisite for success in reading English.

3. The comprehension and appropriate use of words and phrases that show the logical relationship between ideas pose a significant challenge for many deaf students.

4. There are certain typical errors in the comprehension and use of words and phrases that show the logical relationship between ideas that often appear in the language of deaf students.

5. Course materials can be structured to enhance students' use and comprehension of connective words and phrases.