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LINGUIST List 16.3293

Wed Nov 16 2005

Diss: Language Acquisition: Ortega: 'Understanding S...'

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        1.    Lourdes Ortega, Understanding Syntactic Complexity: The measurement of change in the syntax of instructed L2 Spanish learners


Message 1: Understanding Syntactic Complexity: The measurement of change in the syntax of instructed L2 Spanish learners
Date: 15-Nov-2005
From: Lourdes Ortega <lortegahawaii.edu>
Subject: Understanding Syntactic Complexity: The measurement of change in the syntax of instructed L2 Spanish learners


Institution: University of Hawaii at Manoa
Program: Department of Second Language Studies
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2000

Author: Lourdes Ortega

Dissertation Title: Understanding Syntactic Complexity: The measurement of change in the syntax of instructed L2 Spanish learners

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): Spanish (spa)

Dissertation Director:
Michael H. Long

Dissertation Abstract:

This study investigated the extent to which a variety of syntactic
complexity measures can be reliably and validly used for gauging
developmental change and task-related variation in L2 discourse. Data were
collected from 23 third-year U.S. college L2 Spanish learners in two intact
classes over the course of a semester, yielding a corpus of 69 academic
papers, 246 journal entries, 136 written picture narratives, and 70 spoken
picture narratives. In addition, a grammaticality judgment task and an
elicited imitation task were administered at the beginning and end of the
semester in one of the intact classes (N=18), and ACTFL ratings on the
Spanish Speaking Test provided an estimate of these students' global oral
proficiency at the end of the semester.

Using CHILDES (MacWhinney, 2000), several ratios based on length, amount of
coordination, and amount and type of subordination were computed, and a
developmental analysis of relative clause types produced over the semester
was undertaken.

The findings indicate that a complete characterization of syntactic
complexity in IL development minimally calls for the combined use of three
measures tapping distinct qualities: overall length (MLTU), phrasal
elaboration (MLC), and amount of subordination (C/TU). They also suggest
that relative and (to a lesser extent) noun subordination, but not
adverbial subordination, contribute to the syntactic complexity of L2
discourse produced by learners at intermediate levels of L2 ability.
Task-related differences were found for length-based measures and type of
subordination measures but not for measures of amount of coordination and
subordination. Only weak evidence of longitudinal change in syntactic
complexity was found over the short span of a single semester. The
attainment of OPREP stage and the gradual retreat from zero relativizer
errors were identified as apparently critical landmarks in the development
of relativization for the 23 intermediate-level learners, and on this
basis, six L2 Spanish relativization profiles were proposed. Although no
direct relation was found between outcomes of syntactic complexity measures
and learner stage of development in relativization, the findings suggest
that future research in this area is warranted.





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