Measures of syntactic complexity are often employed as a way to objectively characterize the development of second language (L2) writing. Complexity measures are eclectic and may be based on length of syntactic unit, relationships between clauses, and variety of syntactic structures. Development in written complexity is of particular interest to university foreign language (FL) departments given its connection to academic discourse. However, few studies explore longitudinal syntactic complexity development in the academic discourse of university FL majors. The present study, part of a larger program assessment project, performs a comprehensive longitudinal analysis of the L2 Spanish written complexity development of three university students over the course of their Spanish major program. A total of 42 academic texts were analyzed for eight complexity measures based on length, inter-clausal relationships, and phrasal/clausal variety. Results show that students develop certain measures more than others, with the greatest growth in length-based measures. Additionally, the importance of inter-learner variability is evident, as participants show clear individual tendencies. Findings are discussed in light of methodological choices, and implications for university FL major programs are explored.
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- Academic writing
- L2 Spanish
- Syntactic complexity