The Developing Relationship between Spoken and Written Syntax in an English Secondary School
Brenchley, Mark David Tristan
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
To enable publication of papers from the present thesis.
The present study undertook to address two questions: (1) are there any age-relatable relationships between the spoken and written syntax of adolescent students within a mainstream secondary school? (2) are there any relationships associated with the educational attainment of these students? To this end, the study analysed 180 pairs of spoken and written non-narrative texts, eliciting each such pair from students attending a mainstream English secondary school. This bespoke corpus was further designed so as to be balanced across three year groups (Year Seven, Year Eight, Year Nine) and two National Curriculum attainment levels (Level 4, Level 5). Syntactic packaging was chosen as the study’s analytical focus; defined here as comprising how clauses are combined via coordination and subordination. To help ensure a more in-depth analysis, an extended set of measures was employed, ranging from the general (e.g. the number of clauses per t-unit) to the more specific (e.g. the number of non-finite adverbial clauses per t-unit and per clause). So analysed, the study found that adolescent students at the present age and attainment levels can and do differentiate their spoken and written syntax, at least for these texts and these measures. It also found this differentiation to be something that varied according to the particular kind of packaging. Thus, for example, the spoken texts exhibited greater numbers of t-units per t-unit complex, together with a greater prominence of finite adverbial and post-verbal complement clauses. Thus, also, the written texts exhibited a greater overall prominence of non-finite clauses. And, thus, both modalities exhibited similar proportions of relative clauses. Finally, this differentiation was found to be developmentally static, with participants handling their spoken and written syntax for these measures in much the same way, regardless of their age or attainment level. Overall, these findings are interpreted in terms of the participants tapping into the differential production conditions of the two modalities but without necessarily fully exploiting these conditions. Furthermore, when placed in the context of the wider evidence base, the findings point to two general conclusions. Firstly, they indicate students at the present age and attainment levels to be at a stage where their syntactic output is in line with that of more mature discourse. Secondly, they indicate modality to be an aspect of student syntax that is characterised by a potentially high degree of sensitivity to the wider discourse context.
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
PhD in Education