Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Title: Examining syntactic complexity in EFL academic writing
Authors: Liu, Liming
Degree: Ph.D.
Issue Date: 2018
Abstract: The sophisticated nature of academic knowledge building and argumentation necessitates equally complex and elaborated linguistic representation. This has become one of the biggest linguistic challenges for second language (L2) writers of English for academic purposes (EAP). This study investigates syntactic complexity of advanced L2 academic writing, with SC understood as the sophistication and variety of meaning-making linguistic devices available in the grammar of EAP. The study takes a contrastive corpus-based approach, comparing various dimensions of SC between EFL dissertations written by Chinese postgraduate students and published research articles. The aim of the comparisons is to identify areas of syntactic complexity where EFL student writers lag greatly behind expert writers, which can be pedagogically taken up in EAP instruction. The study first employs commonly used L2 syntactic complexity measures to see which measures show significant differences between student writers and expert writes. Subsequently, two major dimensions of syntactic complexity unique to academic writing are examined in detail: noun phrase complexity and the complexity of clause combination. Although register variation research has revealed that academic discourse is characterised by noun phrase complexity while clause combination is typical of everyday conversation, it is argued that these two syntactic complexity dimensions represent different functional and semantic complexification in academic writing: while the former condenses meanings of processes, relations, and attributes, which are canonically construed as clauses, into noun phrases, the latter encodes logical and semantic relationships between statements for the purpose of building arguments.
A number of findings stand out from the results. It has been found that student writing shows significantly lower scores on most syntactic complexity measures than expert writing. The analysis of noun phrase complexity shows that although students are similar to expert writers in selecting structural types for postmodifiers, the complex noun phrases they use are much shorter and contain fewer layers of multiple postmodification compared with expert use. Student writers also do not tend to use complex noun phrases in subject position in ways similar to expert writers. The analysis of finite adverbial clause combination reveals that student writers use fewer concessive and causal clauses than expert writers overall but that it is not uncommon to find instances of student writing where clause combination is unconstrained and obstructs effective communication. Student writing also contains fewer participle adverbial clauses, but cases of sentence-internal overuse of this clause type are spotted. Attempts have been made to interpret the findings from functionally related perspectives based on careful textual analysis. Students' weak use of multiple postmodification in the noun phrase, besides indicating a lack of awareness for the function of this grammatical feature in EAP, also points to their underdeveloped disciplinary knowledge and participation needed to explicate entities and processes related to their research. On the other hand, inadequate concessive and causal clause combination indicates students' unpreparedness and lack of pressure to present justification for and potential external criticism of their statements and claims. Underuse of participle clauses not only indicates students' unfamiliarity with this clause-combining device but also their unawareness of its discourse-coordinating and style-enriching function. In addition, possible transfer from Chinese rhetorical traditions is invoked to interpret students' weakness in both types of complexity. Theoretical contributions to L2 syntactic complexity research and implications of the findings of the study for EAP pedagogy in EFL contexts are discussed as well.
Subjects: Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Academic writing
Grammar, Comparative and general -- Syntax
Pages: xix, 309 pages : illustrations
Appears in Collections:Thesis

Show full item record

Page views

Last Week
Last month
Citations as of Jun 4, 2023

Google ScholarTM


Items in DSpace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.