Exploring the longitudinal development of grammatical complexity in the disciplinary writing of L2-English university students
The present paper employs a corpus-based approach to track the longitudinal language development of university students. Compared to many other longitudinal studies, the present study tracks development over a relatively long period of time (two years) for a relatively large group of students (N = 22). However, the most important difference from previous research is that the study explores the linguistic characteristics of disciplinary writing, across levels of education and academic disciplines, investigating the writing tasks required for disciplinary content courses over two years of university education. We focus on grammatical complexity features associated with the hypothesized stages of development proposed in Biber et al. (2011). Methodologically, the study proposes research designs and statistical approaches that permit investigation of longitudinal development in an unbalanced corpus of natural texts. And linguistically, the results generally support the hypothesized stages of development, documenting a decline in the use of dependent clause complexity features and an increase in the use of phrasal complexity features. As such, the study adds to the growing body of research that emphasizes the importance of phrasal complexity in the development of academic writing.