Dorit Ravid

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Development of complex syntax resources

Chief Scientist – Ministry of Education Grant # 0607015371

Development of complex syntax resources: A psycholinguistic study in schoolage children with different linguistic proficiencies

The view guiding this study is that complex syntax is rhetorical syntax, organizing the flow of information in a piece of discourse. Thus, complex syntax extends beyond sentence-boundary, and is realized at the intra-clause level, within and between phrases. Syntactic complexity is often taken to be the opposite of coordination: it is mostly associated with non-linearity and degrees of subordination. But in fact there are two different ways in which relationships between successive ideas are expressed: Parataxis, where the main elements are placed in a sequence of syntactic units linked together by connectors such as and or but; and Hypotaxis, where relations are specified as subordinate clauses joined by links such as when or although. The current study focuses on continuing syntactic development in later childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, targeting the emergence of complex structures in written Hebrew discourse, where paratactic structure and word order are of paramount importance.

The written mode promotes the creation of complex syntactic units, as constructing a piece of written language imposes cognitive demands on memory, executive functions, and top-down processing that are not readily met before adolescence. This is because the written mode of expression occupies a privileged cognitive position for maturely literate individuals, involving the ability to control and shape the flow of information in discourse through linguistic means, while viewing the text as a whole. Complex syntax thus arises with the need and ability to express complex ideas and information across wide stretches of context. The question is of course what exactly constitutes “complex syntax.”

The current project examines global text structure, syntactic measures (word order, subordination, and coordination) and morpho-lexicon in two text genres – informative and expository – produced by children, adolescents, and adults with different linguistic proficiencies. Degrees of linguistic proficiency were determined in this study based on a battery of morphological tests. We are currently collecting data. More on categories of analysis and on findings as we proceed.