LI Международная научная филологическая конференция имени Людмилы Алексеевны Вербицкой

Developing syntactic complexity in EAP post-graduate writing

Иван Вадимович Григорьев
Санкт-Петербургский государственный университет
Юлия Валентиновна Ауксель
старший преподаватель
Санкт-Петербургский государственный университет

19:40 - 19:55

Ключевые слова, аннотация

Keywords: syntactic complexity, sophistication variables, contingency indices, nominal complement.


Writing proficiency is now the best way to academic success, however, the particular ways and methods of how to provide corresponding training to future academics are still debated. Our study examines how syntactic complexity and sophistication evolve in L2 academic writing and how to use modern computer tools to understand steps in EAP training provided to postgraduate students and how to monitor the students writing development. When teaching syntax to students we bear in mind that there is a correlation between a holistic understanding of the academic text and syntactic sophistication variables that could be used to assess this text. Also, we understand that syntactic complexity correlates with writing quality.Syntactic complexity has largely been interpreted as a formalcharacteristic that is distinct from lexical development. Recently, at the syntactic level, complexity has generally been understood as clausal subordination and sentence length, with little interest paid to phrasal complexity. The measuring of grammatical complexity was the measuring of the mean length of the T-unit (which is understood as a sentence with or without a dependent clause) and measuring the average number of dependent clauses per T-unit. Syntactic sophistication refers to the relative difficulty of learning particular syntactic structures and can be measured by frequency and contingency.Nowadays another approach dominates the field as it offers no possibility of actually describing those structural/syntactic characteristics the development of L2 writing would progress from relying on coordinated and subordinated structures to employing phrasal elaboration and complex noun phrases expansions. Still, the problem of selecting appropriate teaching methods exists:
Which syntactic features are relevant for L2 writers of different language communities?
Which syntactic feature should be taught for the corresponding level of language proficiency?
To monitor and manage the development of syntactic complexity we first compared  phrase types and dependent types in cross-cultural perspective in two languages: Russian and English. To do this we randomly selected research articles published in 2021-2022 in highly-rated linguistic journals in the UK and the Russian Federation for the two corpora. For calculations we used the Tool for the Automatic Analysis of Syntactic Sophistication and Complexity (TAASSC) introduced to the wide academic public in Measuring Syntactic Development in L2 Writing: Fine Grained Indices of Syntactic Complexity and Usage-Based Indices of Syntactic Sophistication by Kristopher Kyle. This software is an advanced syntactic analysis tool that measures indices and usage-based frequency/contingency indices of syntactic sophistication.
We used two sets of indices. The first set includes indices to measure and compare the general complexity of the text. They are: mean length of sentence (number of words per sentence), mean length of T-unit (number of words per T-unit), mean length of clause (number of words per clause) clauses per sentence (number of clauses per sentence), verb phrases per T-unit (number of verb phrases per sentence ), clauses per T-unit     (number of clauses per T-unit), dependent clauses per clause (number of dependent clauses per clause),  dependent clauses per T-unit (number of dependent clauses per T-unit), T-units per sentence (number of T-units per sentence), complex T-unit ratio (number of complex T-units divided by T-units), coordinate phrases per T-unit (number of coordinate phrases per T-unit), coordinate phrases per clause (number of coordinate phrases per clause), complex nominals per T-unit  (number of complex nominals per T-unit), complex nominals per clause (number of complex nominals per clause).The second set (phrase types and dependent types) includes among others the following indices: nominal subject, passive nominal subject, nominal complement, direct object, and indirect prepositional object. The second set is a set of characteristic features used for the evaluation of the textual complexity of academic texts.The results demonstrated the differences in the use of syntactic structures of Russian and English written academic texts and allowed elaborating teaching materials to improve the syntactic complexity and sophistication of academic texts. To test the observations from the underlying study and their applicability to the teaching process, we selected the target group of fifteen postgraduate students. They were first-year post-graduate students majoring in medicine and dentistry and were receiving four hours of the English language writing instruction per week during the 25-week-long semester. The participants were required to submit two rhetorical sections of a research paper (Introduction and Discussion) at the beginning and the end of the course.The findings showed a non-linear way of syntactic complexity development. For example, there was less coordinated clausal complexity and more nominal complexity in the students’ L2 writing. Our findings have highlighted the importance of considering the development of syntactic complexity in L2 writing instruction. Though the impact of writing instruction on L2 writing development is a topic of considerable interest for researchers and the English language educators.

1. K. Kyle, S. Crossley, Measuring syntactic complexity in L2 writing using fine-grained clausal and phrasal indices, The Modern Language Journal, 102 (2) (2018), pp. 333-349