An Examination of Relative Clauses in Argumentative Essays Written by EFL Learners
Syntactic complexity has received a great deal of attention in the literature on second language writing. Relative clauses, which function as a kind of noun phrase post-modifier, are among those structures that are believed to contribute to the complexity of academic prose. These grammatical structures can pose difficulties for EFL writers even at higher levels of proficiency, and it is therefore important to determine the frequency and accuracy with which relative clauses are used by L2 learners since understanding learners’ strengths and weaknesses in using these structures can inform teachers on ways to improve the process of their instruction in the writing classroom. This paper reports on a corpus-based comparison of relative clauses in a number of argumentative essays written by native and non-native speakers of English. To this end, 30 argumentative essays were randomly selected from the Persian sub-corpus of the ICLE and the essays were analyzed with respect to the relative clauses found in them. The results were then compared to a comparable corpus of essays by native speakers. Different dimensions regarding the structure of relative clauses were investigated. The type of relative clause (restrictive/non-restrictive), the relativizer (adverbial/pronoun), the gap (subject/non-subject), and head nouns (both animate and non-animate) in our two sets of data were manually identified and coded. The findings revealed that the non-native writers tended to use a greater number of relative clauses compared to their native-speaker counterparts.
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