UBC Theses and Dissertations
Syntactic development in the writing of ESL students Yau, Margaret Sin-Siu
The current study examined the development of syntactic maturity in a group of Chinese secondary school students learning English as a second language (ESL). The compositions of these students written in response to two tasks (a narrative assignment and an expository assignment) were analyzed-for increase on the use of three syntactic measures (T-unit length, clause length and number of clauses per T-unit) and three grammatical structures (nominals, adverbials and coordinations within T-units) across three grade levels and between two modes of writing. The scores were analyzed by ANOVA in a 3(grade) x 2(mode) factorial design. A stepwise discriminant analysis was also carried out to isolate grammatical structures that best discriminate the writing across the three grade levels and between two modes of writing. Results indicated that there were significant differences in T-unit length, clause length and number of clauses per T-unit across the three grades and there were also significant differences in T-unit length and clause length between the two modes of writing. These differences were accounted for by the increase on these measures from the lowest grade (F.3) to the highest grade (F.7) and also from the expository assignment to the narrative assignment. Moreover, there was a significant interaction between mode and grade in T-unit length and clause length, caused by the non-parallel increase with grade levels between the two modes of writing. The increase in T-unit length and clause length between F.3 and F.7 was much greater on the expository assignment than on the narrative assignment. A similar increase and interaction was found in the grammatical structures. Both the nominals and adverbials increased with grade level, and as with the syntactic measures discussed above, the increases were much greater on the expository than on the narrative assignment. There was not a significant increase in the use of coordinate structures between grade levels, supporting other researchers' claims that this is a transformation acquired early. The ESL students in the current study showed a remarkable resemblance to native English speaking students in terms of syntactic development. Not only was the increase in the syntactic measures similar to the growth trend found with native English speaking students, but the grammatical structures that distinguished the compositions at the three grade levels were also very similar to the mature structures isolated in other studies. One implication that can be drawn from this study is that the similarities between these ESL students and native speakers in the employment of syntax reflects common cognitive strategies that underlie the language learning task. Morever, since the study shows that there is a developmental trend, perhaps proven techniques (such as sentence combining) can be tried on these students to test if the syntactic growth can be speeded up.
Item Citations and Data