Exploring syntactic complexity and its relationship with writing quality in EFL argumentative essays

Open access

Abstract

To predict syntactic complexity in second/foreign language writing, some studies have advocated the use of T-unit and clausal subordination measures while others have argued for the use of phrase-based measures. This study seeks to identify syntactic features that can be regarded as discriminators among different levels of writing quality. For this purpose, a corpus of argumentative essays by EFL learners was compiled and then the essays were rated and placed into three groups of high-rated, mid-rated, and low-rated essays. The corpus was then coded and analysed for both phrasal and clausal features. The phrasal features were manually coded based on the development scheme hypothesized by Biber, Gray and Poonpon (2011) for academic writing, and the clausal features were analysed using the online L2 Syntactic Complexity Analyzer developed by Lu (2010). A separate ANOVA test was used to compare the three groups of essays for each of the phrasal and clausal features. The findings of the current study demonstrated that subordination and dependent clauses were not good indicators of different writing qualities in our corpus. Also, the pattern of noun phrase complexity predicted by Biber et al. (2011) was not observed across argumentative essays from three different levels of writing quality.

Ai, H. and Lu, X., 2013. A corpus-based comparison of syntactic complexity in NNS and NS university students’ writing. In: A. Díaz-Negrillo, N. Ballier and P. Thompson, eds., Automatic treatment and analysis of learner corpus data. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 249–264.

Beers, S. and Nagy, W., 2010. Writing development in four genres from grades three to seven: Syntactic complexity and genre differentiation. Reading and Writing, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 183–202.

Biber, D., Conrad, S., Reppen, R., Byrd, P. and Helt, M., 2002. Speaking and writing in the university: A multidimensional comparison. TESOL Quarterly, vol.36, no.1, pp. 9–48.

Biber, D., Gray, B. and Poonpon, K., 2011. Should we use characteristics of conversation to measure grammatical complexity in L2 writing development? TESOL Quarterly, vol. 45, no. 1, pp. 5–35.

Biber, D., Gray, B. and Staples, S., 2014. Predicting patterns of grammatical complexity across language exam task types and proficiency levels. Applied Linguistics.

Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S. and Finegan, E., 1999. Longman grammar of spoken and written English. Harlow, England: Longman.

Crossley, S. A. and McNamara, D. S., 2014. Does writing development equal writing quality? A computational investigation of syntactic complexity in L2 learners. Journal of Second Language Writing, vol. 26, pp. 66–79.

Crowhurst, M., 1990. Teaching and learning the writing of persuasive/argumentative discourse. Canadian Journal of Education / Revue Canadienne De L’éducation, vol.15, no. 4, pp. 348–359.

Field, A., 2009. Discovering statistics using SPSS. Sage publications.

Friginal, E., Li, M. and Weigle, S. C., 2014. Revisiting multiple profiles of learner compositions: A comparison of highly rated NS and NNS essays. Journal of Second Language Writing, vol. 23, pp. 1-16.

Gardner, S. and Nesi, H., 2012. A classification of genre families in university student writing. Applied Linguistics, vol. 34, no. 1, pp. 25–52.

Grant, L. and Ginther, A., 2000. Using computer-tagged linguistic features to describe L2 writing differences. Journal of Second Language Writing, vol. 9, pp. 123–145.

Hunt, K. W., 1970. Syntactic maturity in school children and adults. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, vol. 35, no.1, pp. iii–67.

Kim, J., 2014. Predicting L2 writing proficiency using linguistic complexity measures: A corpus-based study. English Teaching, vol. 69, no. 4, pp. 27–51.

Kyle, K., 2016. Measuring syntactic development in L2 writing: Fine grained indices of syntactic complexity and usage-based indices of syntactic sophistication (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/alesl_diss/35.

Lan, G., 2014. Investigating the relationship between second language writing proficiency and noun modification. Paper presented at Second Language Writing Symposium of Arizona State University, Arizona, United States.

Lu, X., 2010. Automatic analysis of syntactic complexity in second language writing. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics, vol. 15, pp. 474–496.

Lu, X., 2011. A corpus-based evaluation of syntactic complexity measures as indices of college-level ESL writers’ language development. TESOL Quarterly, vol. 45, no. 1, pp. 36–62.

Lu, X., 2017. Automated measurement of syntactic complexity in corpus-based L2 writing research and implications for writing assessment. Language Testing, vol. 34, no. 4, pp. 493–511.

Lu, X. and Ai, H., 2015. Syntactic complexity in college-level English writing: Differences among writers with diverse L1 backgrounds. Journal of Second Language Writing, vol. 29, pp. 16–27.

Mazgutova, D. and Kormos, J., 2015. Syntactic and lexical development in an intensive English for Academic Purposes programme. Journal of Second Language Writing, vol. 29, pp. 3–15.

Nippold, M. A., Ward-Lonergan, J. M. and Fanning, J. L., 2005. Persuasive writing in children, adolescents, and adults. Language Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, vol. 36, no. 2, pp.125–138.

Norris, J. M. and Ortega, L., 2009. Towards an organic approach to investigating CAF in instructed SLA: The case of complexity. Applied Linguistics, vol.30, no. 4, pp. 555–578.

Ortega, L., 2003. Syntactic complexity measures and their relationship to L2 proficiency: A research synthesis of college-level L2 writing. Applied Linguistics, vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 492–518.

Parkinson, J. and Musgrave, J., 2014. Development of noun phrase complexity in the writing of English for academic purposes students. Journal of English for Academic Purpose, vol. 14, pp. 48–59.

Schultz, J. M., 1991. Writing mode in the articulation of language and literature classes: Theory and practice. The Modern Language Journal, vol. 75. no. 4, pp. 411–417.

Swierzbin, B., 2014. What’s in a noun phrase? Judging the difficulty of a reading text by understanding the complexity of noun phrases. Minnetesol - Minnesota Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/11299/176674.

Taguchi, N., Crawford, W. and Wetzel, D. Z., 2013. What linguistic features are indicative of writing quality? A case of argumentative essays in a college composition program. TESOL Quarterly, vol. 47, no. 2, pp. 420–430.

Wolfe-Quintero, K., Inagaki, S. and Kim, H. Y., 1998. Second language development in writing: Measures of fluency, accuracy and complexity. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.

Wulff, S. and Römer, U., 2009. Becoming a proficient academic writer: Shifting lexical preferences in the use of the progressive. Corpora, vol. 4, no. 2, pp.115–133.

Yang, W., Lu, X. and Weigle, S. C., 2015. Different topics, different discourse: Relationships among writing topic, measures of syntactic complexity, and judgements of writing quality. Journal of Second Language Writing, vol. 28, pp. 53–67.

Journal Information


CiteScore 2018: 0.25

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.144
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.447

Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 65 65 65
PDF Downloads 52 52 52