Syntactic complexity in Iranian learners' English writing and speaking

Sarah Yazdani


This study is aimed at demonstrating the use of syntactic complexity in Iranian learners’ English written and spoken discourse using quantitative-qualitative approach. To fulfill this purpose, forty-five female Iranian students from 3 branches of a private language institute in Mashhad were recruited. The subjects were divided into three groups based on Cambridge Placement Test results: elementary, intermediate, and advanced. All groups (each 15 participants) were asked to write a 200-word essay on a topic. Thereafter, the essays were examined manually for the T-units according to the classification used by the experts. In the follow-up phase of the study, participants were asked to attend an interview on the same topic of their writings to evaluate the usage of C-units in their speaking. The findings illustrate the fact that the most frequent element in macro level was clause in both writing and speaking, while in micro level, there were significant differences between elementary group & intermediate group and between the elementary group and advanced group in writing skill and there was a significant difference between elementary group & advanced group in using subordinate clauses in speaking. A future study investigating syntactic complexity in other skills such as reading would be very interesting.


syntactic complexity; Iranian learners; T-units; C-units; English writing and speaking

Full Text:


Article Metrics

Abstract view : 1085 times | PDF view : 763 times


Ameri-Golestan, A. (2013). Structural priming effects on EFL production of passive structures. Journal of Foreign language teaching and research, 1(1), 11-20.

Armstrong, K. M. (2010). Fluency, accuracy and complexity in graded and ungraded writing. Foreign Language Annals, 43(4), 690-702.

Baron, N. (2000). Alphabet to email. London: Routledge.

Beers, S. F., & Nagy, W. E. (2011). Writing development in four genres from grades three to seven: syntactic complexity and genre differentiation. Reading and Writing, 24(2), 183-202.

Bergman, P., & Abrahamsson, t. (2004). Bedömning av språkfärdigheten hos andraspråkselever. In K. Hyltenstam and I. Lindberg (eds) Svenska som andraspråk – i forskning, undervisning och samhälle. Lund: Studentlitteratur: 597–626.

Biber, D., & Gray, B. (2016). Grammatical complexity in academic English: Linguistic change in writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Celce-Murcia, M. (2002).Why it makes sense to teach grammar in context and through discourse. In E. Hinkel& S. Fotos (Eds.), New perspectives on grammar teaching in second language classrooms (pp. 119–134). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Connors, R. J. (2000). The erasure of the sentence. College Composition and Communication, 52(1), 96-128.

Domsch, C., Richels, C., Saldana, M., Coleman, C. Wimberly, C., & Maxwell, Z. (2012). Narrative shift and systematic complexity in school age children with and without late language emergence. Journal of PubMed, 47(2), 192-207.

Hinkel, E. (2003). Simplicity without elegance: features of sentence in L1 & L2 academic texts. TESOL Quarterly, 37(2), 275- 301.

Hopper, P. J., & Traugott, E. C. (2003). Grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Javidnia, A., & Mahmoodi, K. (2015). The relationship between metalinguistic knowledge (syntax) and Iranian intermediate EFL learners’ writing performance. International Journal of Educational Investigations, 2(1), 103-120.

Khodabandeh, F., Jafarigohar, M., Soleimani, H., & Hemmati, F. (2013). Overall rhetorical structure of students’ English and Persian argumentative essays. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 3(4), 684-690.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2006). The emergence of complexity, fluency and accuracy in the oral and written production of five Chinese learners of English. Applied Linguistics, 27(4), 590- 619.

Low, E. L. (2010). English in Singapore and Malaysia: Similarities and differences. In A. Kirkpatrick (Ed.), Rutledge handbook for world Englishes (pp: 229-46). London: Rutledge.

Lu, X. (2010). Automatic analysis of syntactic complexity in second language writing. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics, 15(4), 474-496.

Lu, X. (2011). A corpus-based evaluation of syntactic complexity measures as indices of college-level ESL writers’ language development. TESOL Quarterly, 45(1), 36-62.

Luchini, P. L. (2010). Evaluating the effectiveness of a complimentary approach to teaching writing skills. International Journal of Language Studies (IJLS), 4(3), 73-92.

Maxweel, J. A., & Loomis, D. M. (2003). Mixed method design: An alternative approach. In A. Tashakkori & C. Teddlie (eds.), Handbook of mixed methods in social and behavioral research. Thousands Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Mehregan, M. (2013). Acquiring English language prepositions by Iranian EFL learners: The effect of proficiency and gender. Journal of Studies in Learning and Teaching English, 1(3), 41-57.

Moghtadi, L., Koosha, M., & Lotfi, A. R. (2015). Learning of relative clauses by L3 learners of English. Applied Research on English Language, 4(1), 79- 105.

Mohammadi, H., Gorjian, B., & Pazhakh, A. (2014). The effect of classroom structure on speaking skills of Iranian EFL learners: A comparative study. International Journal of Language Learning and Applied Linguistics World (IJLLALW), 5(1), 472-487.

Norris, J. M., & Ortega, L. (2009). Towards an organic approach to investigating CAF in instructed SLA: The case of complexity. Applied Linguistics, 30(4), 555-578.

Rimmer, W. (2008). Putting grammatical complexity in context. Literacy, 42(1), 29-35.

Taguchi, N., Crawford, W., & Wetzel, D. Z. (2013). What linguistic features are indicative of writing quality? A case of argumentative essays in a college composition program. TESOL Quarterly, 47(2), 420-430.

Willis, D. (2003). Rules, patterns and words: grammar and lexis in English language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Article Metrics

Abstract view : 1085 times
PDF - 763 times


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2018 Journal on English as a Foreign Language

License URL:

JEFL is published by Institut Agama Islam Negeri (IAIN) Palangka Raya in collaboration with the Association of Teachers of English Linguistics, Literature and Education (ELITE Association) in Indonesia [MoU manuscript].

Editor and Administration Address:

Department of English Language EducationFaculty of Teacher Training and Education, Institut Agama Islam Negeri (IAIN) Palangka Raya, Jalan G. Obos Komplek Islamic Centre Palangka Raya, Kalimantan Tengah, Indonesia, Postal Code 73111, Email: [email protected], Website:

OAI address of JEFL is available at

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

stats View My Stats

Flag Counter