Syntactic Complexity

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Yang, Lu and Weigle (2015) made an investigation on relationships among writing topic, measures of syntactic complexity, and judgments of writing quality. Researchers agreed with Norris and Ortega (2009) conceptualization of syntactic complexity as a multi-dimensional construct represented at the level of global complexity, clausal subordination(finite), clausal coordination, and sub-clausal elaboration (including non-finite elements/subordination, phrasal coordination, and noun phrase complexity). Thus the general research questions that guide this study are as follows: 1. What is the effect of topic on syntactic complexity (with its different dimensions) of ESL students’ writing? 2. What is the relationship between syntactic complexity (with…show more content…
The participants were nonnative English-speaking students studying at eight different institutions in the United States. They came from 10 fields of study as well as non-matriculated English language. And participants were asked to write two argumentative essays in different topics. The first topic asked students to discuss whether people place too much emphasis on personal appearance (the appearance topic). The second asked students to discuss whether careful planning while young ensures a good future (the future topic). and they had 30 minutes to write an essay. The two writing tasks differ in one of the cognitive complexity dimensions in Robinson (2001, 2007, 2011) framework, namely, causal reasoning. Robinson (2005) defines causal reasoning as ‘‘justify[ing] beliefs, and support[ing] interpretations of why events follow each other by giving reasons.’’ The future topic tends to elicit causal reasoning in the sense that it requires the writers to justify why a good future follows or does not follow careful planning, whereas the appearance topic does…show more content…
Yet, such a relationship was found to vary across topics at the local complexity levels— clausal coordination, finite subordination, overall elaboration at the finite clause level, non-finite subordination, phrasal coordination, and noun-phrase complexity. The generic length measures of mean length of sentence and mean length of T-unit may work in predicting writing scores across topics, but they fall short in their capacity to indicate how syntactic complexity is exactly achieved by ESL writers on a given topic.
In conclusion, the study showed complex relationships among writing topic, measures of syntactic complexity, and judgments of writing quality. Essays of the two topics have different effect on syntactic complexity with its different dimensions. And there are a significance and consistence relationship between syntactic complexity at global levels and writing quality. It’s remarkable that syntactic variety achieved by writers, using not only features naturally called for by a certain topic, but also other features to add to the variation, appeared to contribute to higher writing quality as judged by human

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