A Comparison of Measurements of Syntactic Complexity in L2 Writing: Large-Grained Indices and Fine-Grained Clausal and Phrasal Indices



As an important measure of second language (L2) writing, syntactic complexity has always been a significant concept in L2 writing research and pedagogy. Syntactic complexity has traditionally been manipulated through large-grained indices. Although large-grained indices are regarded as the most consistent measurement in L2 writing studies, its widespread application has been criticized recently mainly because of the difficulty in its interpretation and a potentially misaligned focus on clausal complexity like clausal subordination. In this article, the researcher aims to adopt the large-grained indices of syntactic complexity, fine-grained indices of clausal complexity, and fine-grained indices of phrasal complexity to predict the holistic quality of independent expository essays written by Chinese college students. Results revealed that fine-grained indices of phrasal complexity were better indices to predict the overall writing quality than either large-grained or fine-grained clausal indices. These results tally with Kyle and Crossley’s (2018) claims with regard to the validity of syntactic complexity indices in predicting writing quality and also provide stronger support for the superiority of fine-grained indices of phrasal complexity.


Syntactic complexity; L2 writing; Large-grained indices; Fine-grained indices

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968/12889


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