Scholarly article on topic 'The Comparison of the Method Section of Applied Linguistics Articles Written by Native and Iranian Writers in Terms of Grammatical Complexity and Clause Types'

The Comparison of the Method Section of Applied Linguistics Articles Written by Native and Iranian Writers in Terms of Grammatical Complexity and Clause Types Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

CC BY-NC-ND
0
0
Share paper
OECD Field of science
Keywords
{"Academic Writing" / Clause / "Grammatical Complexity" / "Minimum terminal unit (t-unit)"}

Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Zohreh Seifoori, Jiyan Fattahi

Abstract Academic texts are characterized by the use of longer minimal terminal units (t-units) containing complex grammatical structures and various clause types. The purpose of this study was to compare grammatical complexity and clause types used in the methodology section of the applied linguistics articles written by English and Iranian writers. To this purpose, the researchers selected twenty articles. Grammatical complexity was calculated as the ratio of the number of dependent clauses per t-unit to the number of independent clauses used. The t-test analysis revealed no significant difference as far as grammatical complexity was concerned. However native writers used more adjective clauses and the difference reached significance level. The findings might have important pedagogical implications.

Academic research paper on topic "The Comparison of the Method Section of Applied Linguistics Articles Written by Native and Iranian Writers in Terms of Grammatical Complexity and Clause Types"

Available online at www.sciencedirect.com

ScienceDirect

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 98 (2014) 1698 - 1705

International Conference on Current Trends in ELT

The Comparison of the Method Section of Applied Linguistics Articles Written by Native and Iranian Writers in Terms of Grammatical Complexity and Clause Types

Zohreh Seifooria *, Jiyan Fattahib

a b English Department, Tabriz- Branch, Islamic Azad University; Tabriz, Iran

Abstract

Academic texts are characterized by the use of longer minimal terminal units (t-units) containing complex grammatical structures and various clause types. The purpose of this study was to compare grammatical complexity and clause types used in the methodology section of the applied linguistics articles written by English and Iranian writers. To this purpose, the researchers selected twenty articles. Grammatical complexity was calculated as the ratio of the number of dependent clauses per t-unit to the number of independent clauses used. The t-test analysis revealed no significant difference as far as grammatical complexity was concerned. However native writers used more adjective clauses and the difference reached significance level. The findings might have important pedagogical implications.

© 2014 TheAuthors.PublishedbyElsevierLtd.Thisis an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Urmia University, Iran.

Keywords: Academic Writing; Clause; Grammatical Complexity; Minimum terminal unit (t-unit)

1. Introduction

A glance back through the past century will indicate the "changing winds and shifting sands" in the history of teaching writing which has long been overemphasized in language pedagogy as the only way of eliciting performance and making learner's knowledge of the language observable (Silva & Matsuda, 2005). It was not until late 1970s and 1980s that the learning practice view of writing was challenged by the communicative movements and writing was regarded as a communicative skill in which thoughts are converted to written language (Chastain,

* Corresponding author. +98-914-402-2513 E-mail address: Zseifoori2005@yahoo.com

1877-0428 © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Urmia University, Iran.

doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.03.596

1988) allowing the writer to engage with the material environment to produce abstract symbolic objects in the form of written texts ( Halliday, 1996, as cited in Colombia, 2002).

McCarthy, Matthiessen, and Slade (2002) have plotted individual spoken and written texts along the formality continuum with the most informal and concrete spoken interactions at the most informal end and, at the other, the most formal and abstract interactions.In the middle of the scale are informal, written texts, such as emails and letters to friends, and formal spoken texts, such as service encounters, job interview or a public speech. Academic writing might be considered as the most formal form of writing which is planned, collated and redrafted many times(McCarthy, Matthiessen, & Slade, 2002). Platridge (2004) has suggested that writing academic texts entails a proper formal style, specific grammatical patterns, organization and arguments. Research findings have revealed that academic writing is more explicit than speech(Johns, 1997, Olson, 1977, as cited in Biber&Gray, 2010). That is, while speech is dependent on a shared situational context, academic writing is claimed to be decontextualized or explicit, with all assumptions and logical relations being overtly encoded in the text.

In higher education, academic writing is considered to be the most important and complex skill for students to master. The difficulty involved in writing process might pertain to the nature of written language which, according to many researchers, is inherently more complex, elaborate, explicit and more detached than otherlanguage skills. According to (Ortega, 2003) English has become the lingua franca of academic discourse and many students, as well as researchers, must be able to report their findings in English if they want to be fully accepted members of the international academic community. Academic English writing becomes especially challenging and of crucial importance for university students and professors who are increasingly required to conduct their studies and to produce specific writing genres such as essays, summaries, critical reviews, and research papers in English. On the other hand, studies on foreign language writing reveal that students' written production seems to be lacking in the properties of written language such as grammatical complexity, Hinkel (2003), and many students and researchers are still confused about how to write effective academic papers of various different kinds in English.

Effective writing is to some degree characterized by the ability to use complex grammatical structure (Rimmer, 2008). Grammatical complexity suggests a sophistication and difficulty associated with high proficiency (Robinson, 2001).According to (Wolfe - Quinter, Inagaki, & Kim, 1998), complexity reflects the second language learners' current level of language knowledge; it reveals the scope of expanding or restricted second language knowledge. This complexity has beencharacterizedas length of production unitthat is, longer sentences, longer minimal terminal units (t- units), a main clause plus all associated dependent clauses, amount of embeddingand greater use of subordinate clauses, and rang of production (Brown & Yule, 1983; Chafe 1982; Kroll, 1977; O' Donnell, 1970, as cited in Biber & Gray, 2010; Ortega, 2003). Hughes (1996, as cited in Biber & Gray, 2010) has contrasted spoken grammar as employing simple and short clauses, with little elaborate embedding, with written discourse which employs longer and more complex clauses with embedded phrase and clauses, explicit and varied marking of clause relations, and explicit presentation of ideas. Thus, grammatical complexity maybe regarded as an important feature characterizing academic writing, and the major question for many teachers and learners concerns how to achievemastery of such degree of complexity. Grammatical complexity is important in second language research as well because it is assumed that language development entails, among other processes, the growth of language learners' syntactic repertoire and the ability to use that repertoire to serve a wide range of communicative purposes.

A developed discourse competence permits an acceptably high level of complexity in writing allowing the writers to generate an infinite number of sentences to express an inexhaustible supply of ideas (Chomsky, 1965, as cited in Nippold, Mansfield, Billow, & Tomblin, 2009). Much of this creative expression is achieved through the use of complex sentences that contain subordinate clauses. Tree major types of subordinate clauses include nominal clause, relative clauses, and adverbialclausesthat are embedded in a main or independent clause (Crew, 1977, as cited in Nippold, Mansfield, Billow, & Tomblin, 2009). A main clause is an independent clause which can be a simple sentence, for example "I like vacations". An embedded clauseis also a dependent or subordinate clauseincluding an adjective clause, "Trustworthiness is a characteristic that I like", an adverb clause "When I arrived, I went

straight to my room" or a noun clause "I think I will need about 50 participants".

Investigations into L2 writing and texts haveindicated that at university level, assessments of students' essays grammatical and lexical simplicity is often considered a sever handicap, and research has shown that essay ratersalmost note that simple construction and lexicon are factors that may reduce the rating (Hinkel, 2003). Hence, the large body of studies of writing in general and academic writing in particular seems quite justifiable. In such analyses of written discourse, units are often associated with sentence. A sentence is considered to be the smallest independent unit .In a reinterpretation of the sentence, many functional and developmental studies (Klecan- Aker & Lopez, 1985), including studies of second language learners (Larsen - Freeman, 1978), have taken the "minimum terminal unit" (t-unit) as the basic unit of analysis, defined as a main clause plus any subordinate clauses (Hunt, 1965, as cited in Banerjee, Franceschina, & Smith, 2009).

Banerjee, Franceschina, & Smith (2004) explored the defining characteristics of written language at each International English Language Testing system (IELTS) band level with regard to syntactic complexity. They also examined how complexity changed from one IELTS level to the next across the 3-8 band range. The writing of 275 test takers at levels 3-8 on the IELTS band scales were taken and then subjected to manual annotation for each of the measures selected. The finding showed that syntactic complexity had not produced a clear development picture matching the IELTS band level 3-8.

In 1999-2000, Colombia (2002) started a longitudinal study with heritage students who were using Spanish in academic context to examine the extent to which Latino college students develop full control of literate language. Colombia (2002) collected both oral and written data and based the analysis of texts on grammatically complexity. The result showed the use of colloquial register and a common trajectory toward grammatical less intricate.

Xiao (2008) investigated how well Chinese users of English compose abstracts of academic writing genres. For the purpose, the investigation covers grammatical complexity. The result showed that native speakers' (NS) texts were composed of 27 clause complexes and non-native speakers (NNS) used 28 clause complexes showing no deviation on the part of NNSs from the norm.

Tapper (2005) investigated how advance Swedish EFL learners used adverbial clauses in essays in comparison to American university students. The material used in the study was taken from the Swedish of the International corpus of learners' language (ICEL) and the American (LOCNESS) corpus. The results showed that Swedish learners used more adverbial than American students and the difference was significant. In another overview of research concerning difference between Li and L2 writing, Silva (1993) concluded that "L2 writers did less in the way of advance planning, less creative in the generation of ideas, less lexical control, less complex and mature in their use of structures.

Studies on foreign language writing has revealed that students' written production in general seems to be lacking in the properties of written language which is considered to be lexically and syntactically complex (Hinkel, 2003).In a study in the context of Iran, Zare-ee and Taghi Farvardin (2009) evaluated the linguistic patterns of Li and L2 writing samples of Iranian EFL learners and aimed to determine possible quantitative differences. For this purpose, an EFL class including 30 Iranian EFL at an English department was selected and the participants were asked to write English and Persian composition on the same topic in two separate sessions. The collected data were used and compared based on the number of words and the number of t- units. The results showed a moderate positive correlation between L1 and L2 writing total scores, texts written in L1 were longer and more complex in terms of t-units.

According to (Verspoor, Lowie, & Ban Dijk, 2008), a learner who knows both basic and more refined grammatical structure will produce texts that are grammatically complex. Many students and researchers are still confused about how to write effective academic papers of various kinds in English. However, there have not been many studies in the literature examining grammatical complexity in the research articles by Iranian writers to see

whether their written performance is marred by limited structure causing lack of variety and style. Thus, drawing on the previous research findings, the aim of the present study was to compare grammatical complexity as the number of t- units and clause types used in the methodology sections of the articles written by native and Iranian writers. To this end, the following research questions were formulated:

1- Is there any difference between native and non-native writers of academic applied linguistic articles in terms of grammatical complexity?

2- Is there any difference between native and non-native writers of academic applied linguistic articles in terms of the number of t-units?

3- Is there any difference between native and non-native writers of academic applied linguistic articles in terms of clause types used?

2. Methodology

2.1. Research data

The research data analyzed in this study consisted of twenty articles in the field of Applied Linguistics: ten articles written by native writers and ten others by non- native writers. They were published in leading international and Iranian Journals. The researchers selected articles based on the date of publication, nationality of the authors, research design. All the papers selected had been published since 2000 with at least one author whose native language was English. Moreover, quasi- experimental articles were chosen because such articles are similar in structure and may share a number of linguistic and methodological characteristics. Finally, the study was focused on the methodology section of the articles because it was assumed that this section calls for innovative use of language.

2.2. Measures

Different measures of grammatical complexity have been used in previous research studies. The most frequently used measures for grammatical complexity are "the length of the utterance, either sentence, or clause, and the amount of subordination or the number of dependent clauses per t- unit (Verspoor, Lowie, & Van Dijk, 2008, p. 220).Hunt (1965, as cited in Banerjee, Franceschina, & Smith, 2004) demonstrated that sentence length is not a good indicator of language proficiency, and that there is no correlation between proficiency and the length of sentence as defined by conventional punctuation. Thus, Hunt (1965, as cited in Banerjee, Franceschina, & Smith, 2004) used a different unit of text altogether, which he dubbed the minimum terminal unit (t- unit) since it is defined as a main clause and all the subordinate clauses that belong to it. According to (Wolf- Quintero, Inagaki, & Kim. 1998), Clauses are a better indicator of grammatical complexity because a clause provides better insights into the complexity of a sentence; and the number of dependent clauses per t-unit has been used in most of the studies as an effective measure of grammatical complexity. To take both length and subordination into account, the researchers in the present study measured grammatical complexity as the ratio of the total number of dependent clauses used in the methodology section to the total number of t-units.

2.3. Procedure

The collected data were classified into two groups: native writers' articles and non- native writers' articles. The purpose of the study was to compare native and non- native articles in terms of grammatical complexity, the number of T- units and clause type in the methodology sections based on (Wolf-Quintero et al.'s, 1998) measure of grammatical complexity. All academic written articles were, first, coded for t-units and dependent clauses. Then, grammatical complexity was estimated as the ratio of subordination to the number of t-units. The results were expressed as a percentage for each article. The research questions were answered by comparing the grammatical complexity, the number of t-units, and the clause types used in the articles written by native and Iranian authors via three independent samples t-test anlyses.

3. Results

The descriptive statistics of the complexity measures were calculated to answer the first research question and the results are presented in Table 1.

Table 1. The Descriptive Statistics of the Grammatical Complexity of Method Sections Written by Native and Non-native Writers_

_Writers_N_Mean_Std. Deviation_Std. Error Mean_

Natives 10 74.20 21.67 6.85

Grammatical Complexity

Non-Natives 10 78.37 21.09 6.67

The data suggests a higher level of complexity by native writers compared to Iranians. To assess the statistical significance, the data was submitted to an independent samples t-test, the results of which are presented in Table 2.

Table 2. Independent Samples t-test Analysis of Grammatical Complexity

Levene's Test for Equality of Variances t-test for Equality of Means

F Sig. t df Sig. (2-tailed) Std. Error Mean Difference Difference

GC Equal variances assumed .195 .664 -.435 18 .669 -4.16 9.56

Equal variances not assumed -.435 17.98 .669 -4.16 9.56

Based on the results, there was not any significant difference between the grammatical complexity of the methodology sections in academic papers written by native and non-native writers (t = -.435, p > .05).

To investigate the second research question, the research calculated the total number of t- units produced by each writer and calculated the descriptive statistics, as presented in Table 3.

Table 3.The Independent Samples Analysis of the Number of T-units Produced by Native and Non-native Writers.

Writers N Mean Std. Deviation Std. Error Mean

Number of T-units Natives 10 63 47.86 15.13

Non-natives 10 39 12.75 4.03

The results showed that native writers with a mean of 63 produced much more t-units compared to the non-native writers. Another Independent Samples t-test Analysis was run, the results of which are presented in Table 4, to find out whether the difference was significant or not.

Zohreh Seifoori and Jiyan Fattahi / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 98 (2014) 1698 - 1705 Table 4. The Independent Samples t-test Analysis of the Number of T-units Produced by Native and Non-native Writers

Levene's Test for Equality of Variances

t-test for Equality of Means

95% Confidence

Sig. Mean Std. Error Interval of the t df. (2-tailed) Difference Difference Difference _Lower Upper

Number of T-units

Equal variances assumed Equal variances not assumed

7.081 .016 1.57 18 .134 24.60 15.66 -8.30 57.50

1.57 10.27 .147 24.60 15.66 -10.17 59.37

Surprisingly, the result indicated no significant difference between native and Iranian authors(t = 1.57, p =.134 > .05). That is to say, the native authors were similar to Iranian authors in terms of the number of t-units contained in their texts.

In order to answer the third research question, the researchers first counted the number of three types of subordinate clauses in each article and calculated the description statistics of the research data as presented below in Table 5.

Table 5. The descriptive Statistics of the Clauses Used by Native and Non-native Writers

Writers N Mean Std. Deviation Std. Error Mean

Noun Clauses Natives 10 5 4.66 1.47

Non-Natives 10 2 1.28 .40

Adjective Clauses Natives 10 28 23.62 7.47

Non-Natives 10 14 3.48 1.10

Adverb Clauses Natives 10 17 12.57 3.97

Non-Natives 10 13 6.50 2.05

The result showed that the native authors produced an average of 5 noun clauses, 28 adjective clauses, and 17 adverb clauses whereas similar averages for the Iranian authors were 2, 14, and 13. Another independent sample t-test was run to assess the statistical significance of the observed differences.

Table 6. The Independent Samples t-test Analysis of the Type of Adverbial Clauses Used by Native and Non-native Writers

Levene's Test for Equality of Variances

t-test for Equality of Means

(2-tailed)

Mean Differenc

Std. Error Difference

95% Confidence Interval of the Difference Lower Upper

Adjective Equal Clauses variances

assumed

2.58 .125 2.15 18

variances not assumed

2.15 10.36 .05

-.091 6.(

Noun Clauses

Adverb Clauses

variances

assumed

variances not

assumed

variances

assumed

variances not assumed

¡.46 .020 1.78 18

1.78 9.39

2.38 .140 .961 18

.961 13.49 .35

-2.36 29.36

-3.47 30.47

-5.10 13.70

-5.33 13.93

Although native writers had produced more adverbial and noun clauses, the difference between natives and non-natives writers reached the significance level only in case of adjective clauses (t = 2.15, p < .05).

4. Discussion

The main purpose of this study was to compare grammatical complexity, the number of t-units, and clause types produced by native and Iranian authors. The results emerging from the present enquiry revealed that Iranian writers were able to produce texts that were as complex and detailed as those of native speakers. Furthermore, although native writers had produced more adverb and noun clauses, the difference between them reached the significance level only in case of adjective clause.

The findings emerging from the present study are consistent with several previous studies. Xiao (2008) found that the abstracts written by native writers were more complex than those written by native writers, but the difference between them did not reach the significance level. Banerjee, et al. (2004) claimed that syntactic complexity had not produced a clear development picture matching the IELTS band level 3-8.

The finding emerging from the present study do not lend support to (Tapper, 2005) whose research on adverbial clauses indicated that Swedish EFL learners overused adverbial connectives compared to American University students. The findings are incompatible with the findings of (Colombia, 2002) who found that Spanish authors had a common trajectory toward grammatical less complex language and are more tended to use features of spoken discourse.

5. Conclusion

A possible explanation for the findings might be that, first of all, Iranian writers whose texts were analyzed had reached high levels of proficiency level required for producing complex academic texts. Secondly, the limited use of adjective clauses in the texts produced by Iranian writers, even at higher level of academic writing, may signal a sort of innate avoidance strategy to use adjective clauses. This avoidance might be pertinent to the evident differences between the structural systems of Persian and English. And a possible explanation of the observed difference might be thesignalof inadequate teaching method which could not address the learning needs of the learners at lower levels of education.

The findings emerging form this study have pedagogical implications and may suggest the need to revise the normal methodology of teaching for English teachers who teach English for specific or Academic purposes (ESP), (EAP), the necessity of designing more needs-based materials for material writers and syllabus designers.

References

Banerjee, J., Franceschina. F., & Smith, A. M. (2004).Documenting features of written language production typical at different IELTS band score

levels, IELTS Research Reports Volume 7, Retrieved March 12, 2012 from www.ielts.org. Biber, D., & Gray, B. (2010). Challenging stereotypes about academic writing: Complexity, elaboration, explicitness..Journal oof English forAcademic Purposes, 9, 2-20.

Chastain, K.(1988). Developing second language skills.Theory and Practice.

3rd ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Colombi, M. C. (2002). Academic language development in Lafino students' writing in Spanish. In M. J. Schleppegrell& M. C. Colombi (Eds.),

Developing advanced literacy in first & second language (pp. 67-86). Mahwah, NK: Lawrence Erlbaum. Hinkel, E. (2003). Simplicity without elegance: Features of sentences in L1& L2 academic texts. TESOL Quarterly, 37 (2), 275-301. Klecan-Aker, J. S. & Beth, L. (1985).A comparison of T-units and cohesive ties used by first and third grade children.Language and Speech, 28 (3), 307-315.

Larsen - Freeman D. (1978). An ESL index of development.TESOL Quarterly,12(4), 439-448.

McCarthy, M., Matthiessen, C., & Slade, D. (2002). Discourse analysis. In Norbert Schmitt (Eds.), An introduction to applied linguistics (pp.5573). Arnold: Oxford University Press. Nippold, M. A., Mansfield, T. C., Billow, J. L., &Tomblin, J. B. (2009).Syntactic development in adolescents.American Journal of Speech-

Language Pathology, 18, 241-251.

Ortega, L. (2003). Syntactic complexity measures and their relationship to L2 proficiency: A research synthesis of college-level L2 writing.

Applied Linguistics, 24 (4), 492-518. Paltridge, B. (2004). State of the art review: Academic writing. Language Teaching, 37 (2), 87-105. Rimmer, W. (2006).Measuring grammatical complexity: the Gordian knot. Language Testing, 23 (4), 497-519.

Robinson, P. (2001). Task complexity, task difficulty, and task production: Exploring interactions in a componential framework. Applied Linguistics, 22, 27-57.

Silva, T. & Matsuda, K. (2005).Second language writing.Retrieved October 29, 2011 from http/linguistlist.org.lissues/12/12-1259. Silva, T. (1993). Toward an understanding of the distinct nature of L2 writing: The ESL research and its implication. TESOL Quarterly, 27, 657677.

Tapper, M. (2005). Connectives in advanced EFL Learners' written English - preliminary results. In F. Heinat& E. Klingvall (Eds.), The

department of English in Lund: Working Papers inLinguistics 5. Lund: Department of English, Lund University. Verspoor, M., Lowie, W., & Van Dijk, M. (2008).Variability in second language development from a dynamic system perspective.Modern Language Journal, 92, 214-231.

Wolfe Q. K., Inagaki, S., & Kim, H. Y. (1998).Second language development in writing: Measures offluency, accuracy, & complexity. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Xiao, J. (2008). A grammatical comparison of journal abstracts for academic prose in distinct contexts: A Systemic Functional Grammar

approach. Retrieved October 22, 2011 from www.1.open.edu.cu. Zare-ee, A., &Farvardin, M. T. (2009). Comparison of university level EFL learners' linguistic and rhetorical patterns as reflected in their L1 and L2 writing. Novitas-ROYAL, 3 (2), 143-155.