Syntactic maturity in four cultural groups
The purpose of this study was to research the language performance in written English of first and second language users of English to gain an insight into their language competence. Hunt's T units, validated by researchers as sensitive and discriminating between different racial groups, were used to measure syntactic maturity quantitatively. Two tests were made and analyzed as Hunt set out in Syntactic Maturity in School Children and Adults. One was a controlled passage, comprising 34 kernel sentences to be rewritten "in a better way", the other a free writing passage, the stimulus sentence being "I'll never forget the time when...." A vocabulary test was also administered as a ranking device. Research had shown that vocabulary tests measure verbal ability, and are relatively culture-fair. The objectives of the study were: 1. to determine the nature of the differences in the use of English by groups of students for whom English is a first language and those for whom English is a second language. It was hypothesized that subjects for whom English is a second language would score lower on the two measures of syntactic maturity being used than subjects for whom English is a first language. 2. to determine for each of the four groups if there is a correlation between scores on the two syntactic maturity measures based on the different approaches -- the controlled passage and the free writing sample. It was hypothesized that there would be a positive correlation between these two. 3. to determine for each of the four groups if there is a correlation between scores on a vocabulary test and scores on the two syntactic measures. It was hypothesized that there would be a positive correlation. 4. to determine for each of the four groups if there is a correlation between the number of words a student used in the controlled passage and the number of words he wrote in the free writing passage. It was hypothesized there would be a negative correlation. 5. to determine for each of the four groups if there is a correlation between the number of words in the controlled passage and the ratios of syntactic maturity, and between the number of words in the free writing passage and the ratios of syntactic maturity. It was hypothesized that there would be a positive correlation in the free writing passage. Population The population comprised: 1. grade 11 and 12 Canadian Indian students whose first language is Blackfoot and Canadian students whose first language is English, from a small town in southern Alberta. For brevity, they will be referred to as Blackfoot and Canadian respectively. 2. form six black Rhodesian students whose first language is Shona, from a school in Mashonaland and white Rhodesians whose first language is English from a school in Salisbury. For brevity, they will be referred to as Shona and Rhodesian respectively. The study found no consistent trend in the analysis of the syntactic structures used by second language speakers when compared with their compatriots who speak English as a first language. The Blackfoot scored significantly higher than the Canadians on two measures of syntactic maturity in the free writing passage, showing that they used longer T units in a free situation. Canadians however score significantly higher in one category in the controlled passage, showing that in a situation where precision was required they produced longer clauses than the Blackfoot. In the case of the Rhodesian/Shena set, the Rhodesians scored significantly higher in five categories, indicating a trend for these first language users to show more syntactic maturity, as measured by Hunt's five ratios, than their Shona speaking compatriots. The tests to show whether the controlled passage and free writing passage measured the same thing were inconclusive. The correlation between scores was slight; the correlation between ranking on scores was more substantial. Tests made to see if there was a correlation between ability in a vocabulary test and syntactic maturity as shown on Hunt's five ratios showed there was little relationship between these two elements of language. Length of the controlled passage and length of the free writing passage correlated negatively, suggesting that a student who writes compactly in the controlled passage was able to relax and expand his syntactic register in the free writing passage. Alternately, a student who was unable to be compact in the controlled passage was also unable to relax and expand his syntactic register in the free writing passage. This was backed up by the correlation between length and syntactic maturity ratios. From these findings several conclusions were drawn. The study showed that the syntax of second language users does not differ greatly from that of first language users. The research has shown language to be a problem for second language users. Possibly the measures of language performance used in this study are not really a reflection of language competence. A study of the oral comprehension of students whose mother tongue is not English should be made. Particularly at grades 11, 12 and university levels, stress is on oral comprehension of lecture material in specific subject areas. It is important to determine difficulties these students have with both oral and written language. The vocabulary test failed to discriminate fairly between the capabilities of individuals. It is possible that this test, or another test, might produce a higher correlation between vocabulary scores and a conventional evaluation of each individual's work; or between vocabulary scores and a syntactic analysis that includes qualitative components. Quality, as well as quantity, needs to be considered in measuring the syntax of grade 11 and 12s. Hunt finds students who write long clauses and T units to be more syntactically mature, without regard for the quality of the writing. This was shown to be an important omission at this level. Variety and flexibility also have a part in the production of good syntax. Curriculum and methodology should include the study of literature and the student's own writings as lessons in stylistics. Literature of high quality, judiciously introduced, would enrich and extend students' experiences with words, ideas, style. Hunt's quantitative measures of syntax could be used along with quantitative analysis to identify the specifics of mature writing. Through this process students' own writing should improve stylistically. Note: Page 51 is missing.