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  • 1. Dixon, Tülay
    et al.
    Egbert, Jesse
    Larsson, Tove
    Kaatari, Henrik
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    What is formality?: Triangulating corpus data with teacher perceptions2022Conference paper (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    Academic writing is often referred to as formal, but the construct of formality is yet to be clearly defined. To some scholars (e.g., Kolln & Gray, 2017), formality refers to the presence or absence of certain linguistic features in a text. To others (e.g., Smith, 2019), it refers to situational characteristics of a text (e.g., research articles are formal because of their target audience and purpose). 

    The goal of this study is to explore the elusive construct of formality in the context of academic writing. We asked instructors of first-year composition courses to rate the level of formality in 60 short texts on a five-point scale. The texts were from two publication types (university textbooks, journal articles) in three disciplines (psychology, biology, history). We used instructors’ perceptions to (a) identify relationships between perceptions of formality and the use of linguistic features in academic texts, and (b) determine the extent to which the situational characteristics of texts (e.g., differences in audience, purpose) are related to perceptions of formality. To investigate the linguistic features that are associated with more formal texts, we used Multi-Dimensional analysis to reduce 56 lexico-grammatical features to five dimensions of linguistic variation and correlated those dimension scores with instructor’s perceptions. 

    Preliminary analysis indicates that texts perceived to be more formal included more linguistic features that help package information such as pre-nominal modifiers, nouns, and agentless passive voice (r = .58). Texts that were considered to be less formal included more of the linguistic features associated with colloquial narrative such as phrasal verbs, past tense verbs, and activity verbs (r = -.50). Additionally, differences in publication types explained 55% of the variance in perceptions of formality. These findings can inform how formality is taught and assessed, contributing to equity in the assessment of student writing.

  • 2.
    Dixon, Tülay
    et al.
    Oxford College of Emory University, Oxford, GA, USA.
    Egbert, Jesse
    English Department, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, USA.
    Larsson, Tove
    English Department, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, USA.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Hanks, Elizabeth
    English Department, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, USA.
    Toward an empirical understanding of formality: Triangulating corpus data with teacher perceptions2023In: English for specific purposes (New York, N.Y.), ISSN 0889-4906, E-ISSN 1873-1937, Vol. 71, p. 161-177Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    Academic writing is often referred to as “formal,” but the teaching and assessment of formality can be challenging as formality has been conceptualized in many ways. The goal of this study is to explore the elusive construct of formality in the context of academic writing, especially with regard to what formality means to academic writing instructors. We used instructors’ perceptions of formality (i) to identify relationships between the use of linguistic features in academic texts and perceptions of formality and (ii) to determine the extent to which the situational characteristics of texts (e.g., differences in audience, purpose, and discipline) are related to perceptions of formality. Specifically, we asked 72 academic writing instructors to rate the formality level of 60 short academic text excerpts on a five-point scale. The excerpts were sampled from two publication types (university textbooks, journal articles) in three disciplines (psychology, biology, history). Overall, the results indicate that perceptions of formality can be explained by both linguistic features and situational characteristics. As linguistic features and situational characteristics are intertwined, differences in perceptions of formality seem to be functionally motivated. Implications for the teaching of academic writing are discussed.

  • 3.
    Garretson, Gregory
    et al.
    Uppsala universitet, Engelska institutionen.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    Uppsala universitet, Engelska institutionen.
    The computer as research assistant: A new approach to variable patterns in corpus data2014In: Recent advances in corpus linguistics: Developing and exploiting corpora / [ed] Lieven Vandelanotte, Kristin Davidse, Caroline Gentens & Ditte Kimps, Amsterdam: Rodopi , 2014, p. 55-80Chapter in book (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    This article advocates a particular type of semi-automated approach to working with corpus data termed “shared evaluation”, the central idea of which is that the computer takes over more of the work of sorting and classifying the data, while a subsequent pass by a human coder ensures the ultimate accuracy of the data selection and classification. The article begins with a discussion of the traditional approach to corpus data and the tools that are currently available. It then describes the shared evaluation approach and compares this to a typical concordancer-based approach. The article goes on to present SVEP, a computer program developed by the authors to implement this approach and offered freely to other researchers, describing the most significant aspects of the program and its use. A case study involving adjective complementation is then presented, including examples of how SVEP was used in the study and an evaluation of the accuracy the program achieved. The article ends with a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of SVEP in particular (and some ways the program might be improved) and of semi-automated approaches such as shared evaluation in general.

  • 4.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    Uppsala universitet, Engelska institutionen.
    Adjectival complementation: Genre variation and meaning2013Conference paper (Refereed)
  • 5.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    Uppsala universitet, Engelska institutionen.
    Adjectives complemented by that- and to-clauses: Exploring semantico-syntactic relationships and genre variation2017Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
    Abstract [en]

    The present compilation thesis investigates adjectives complemented by that- and to-clauses. More specifically, the thesis is concerned with extraposed (e.g. it is likely that she will win and it is important to win) and post-predicate clauses (e.g. I’m sure that he’s alive and I’m glad to see you). The thesis is most fundamentally concerned with the study of linguistic variation. Thus the aim of the thesis is to explain why a certain construction is used in a given context.

    The data used in the studies comes from the British National Corpus (BNC). Study I proposes a semi-automated approach to variable patterns in corpus data. The study describes the creation of a computer program which has been designed to facilitate the extraction and coding of corpus data. In Study II, extraposed and post-predicate that- and to-clauses are contrasted in terms of their variation across genres, their lexical diversity and the meanings expressed by the adjectives most frequently found in each construction. Study III tests the applicability of the Complexity Principle and the Uniform Information Density Principle on adjectival data, by examining the variation between retaining and omitting the complementizer that across extraposed and post-predicate clauses. Study IV tests whether the syntactic status of I’m sure is similar to that of I think, i.e. whether it exhibits the same signs of grammaticalization.

    The results show that extraposed and post-predicate that-clauses are associated with similar meanings but differ in most other respects. Compared to post-predicate that-clauses, extraposed that-clauses are more frequent in formal genres, they are found with fewer instances of that-omission, and they are found to be more frequently represented in cognitively complex environments. Similarly, the results also show that extraposed and post-predicate to-clauses are associated with similar meanings, but differ in terms of their genre distribution. Instead, in terms of meaning, extraposed that- and to-clauses on the one hand, and post-predicate that- and to-clauses on the other, are similar to each other. The thesis highlights the importance of studying adjectival complementation in its own right, and not to treat it as subordinate to, or part of, verbal complementation.

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  • 6.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    Uppsala universitet, Engelska institutionen.
    Classifying fictional texts in the BNC using bibliographical information2013Conference paper (Refereed)
  • 7.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    On the syntactic status of I'm sure2018In: Corpora, ISSN 1749-5032, E-ISSN 1755-1676, Vol. 13, no 1, p. 1-25Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    This study tests whether the syntactic status of the subject-adjective combination I'm/I am sure is similar to the subject-verb combination I think (i.e., whether it exhibits the same signs of grammaticalisation along two different parameters). More specifically, the study is concerned with the ability of I'm/I am sure to (i) occur in clause-medial and clause-final position, and with (ii) its preference for that-omission, by comparing the behaviour of I'm/I am sure with the results reported for I think in previous studies. The results show that I'm/I am sure behaves in a similar way to I think both in terms of its ability to occur in clause-medial and clause-final position, and in terms of its preference for that-omission. However, SURE is both much less frequent than THINK in general, and is also proportionally less dominant among the class of adjectival predicates followed by that-clauses than THINK is among verbal predicates. This makes it difficult to argue that they have developed independently through the same frequency correlation. Instead, I argue that SURE and THINK are part of the same grammaticalised constructional schema, and that the frequency of THINK could be seen to have an impact on the grammatical status of the parallel construction with SURE.

  • 8.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    Uppsala universitet, Engelska institutionen.
    Review of An Van linden: Modal adjectives: English deontic and evaluative constructions in synchrony and diachrony (Topics in English Linguistics 75). Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter Mouton, 20122013In: ICAME Journal/International Computer Archive of Modern English, ISSN 0801-5775, E-ISSN 1502-5462, Vol. 37, p. 261-265Article, book review (Other academic)
  • 9.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    Uppsala universitet, Engelska institutionen.
    Review of Ilka Mindt: Adjective complementation: An empirical analysis of adjectives followed by that–clauses (Studies in Corpus Linguistics 42). Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 20112012In: Studia Neophilologica, ISSN 0039-3274, E-ISSN 1651-2308, Vol. 84, no 1, p. 120-124Article, book review (Other academic)
  • 10.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    Uppsala universitet, Engelska institutionen.
    Review of Juhani Rudanko: Changes in Complementation in British and American English: Corpus-based Studies on Non-finite Complements in Recent English2013In: Studia Neophilologica, ISSN 0039-3274, E-ISSN 1651-2308, Vol. 85, no 2, p. 241-244Article, book review (Other academic)
  • 11.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    Uppsala universitet, Engelska institutionen.
    Sampling the BNC – creating a randomly sampled subcorpus for comparing multiple genres2012Conference paper (Refereed)
  • 12.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    Uppsala universitet, Engelska institutionen.
    Syntactic reduction and redundancy: Variation between that-mentioning and that-omission in English complement clauses2013Conference paper (Refereed)
  • 13.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    Uppsala universitet, Engelska institutionen.
    Variation across three dimensions: Testing the complexity principle on adjectival data2013Conference paper (Refereed)
  • 14.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    Uppsala universitet, Engelska institutionen.
    Variation across two dimensions: Testing the Complexity Principle and the Uniform Information Density Principle on adjectival data2016In: English Language and Linguistics, ISSN 1360-6743, E-ISSN 1469-4379, Vol. 20, no 3, p. 533-558Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    This study tests the applicability of the Complexity Principle (Rohdenburg 1996) and the Uniform Information Density Principle (Jaeger 2010) on adjectival data as regards the variation between retaining and omitting the complementizer that in English adjectival complementation constructions. More specifically, the study tests the effect of different factors of potential importance on this variation across extraposed (e.g. It was inevitable (that) he should be nicknamed 'the Ferret') and post-predicate clauses (e.g. I'm happy (that) we are married). While both the factors concerned with the Complexity Principle and the Uniform Information Density Principle are found to have an effect on post-predicate clauses, less clear effects are found concerning extraposed clauses. I attribute these findings to the difference between the two constructions in terms of their frequency of co-occurrence with different matrix subject types and with different adjectives.

  • 15.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    et al.
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Larsson, Tove
    Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgien.
    Using the BNC and the Spoken BNC2014 to study the syntactic development of I think and I’m sure2018Conference paper (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    The grammaticalization of I think has received considerable attention in recent years (Thompson & Mulac, 1991; Kaltenböck, 2011; Van Bogaert, 2011). However, far less attention has been paid to the related epistemic marker I’m sure, despite the fact that this construction has been shown to exhibit similar behavior (Kaatari, forthcoming). The present study aims to investigate the degree to which I’m sure is on the same grammaticalization trajectory as I think, as explained below.

    Following Traugott & Heine (1991), we view grammaticalization as both a diachronic and a synchronic phenomenon to be studied “at a synchronically segmented moment in time” (Traugott & Heine, 1991:1). In addition to a propensity for that-omission in clause-initial position, one of the main arguments put forth to support the claim that I think is grammaticalized is that it has developed an ability to occur in clause-medial (1) and clause-final position (2), that is outside its canonical clause-initial position (3) (Thompson & Mulac, 1991). Contrary to Hooper’s (1975) claim, a recent empirical study on I’m sure has indicated increased flexibility in this respect, as exemplified below (Kaatari, forthcoming).

    (1)  He is, I think/I’m sure, an interesting person.

    (2)  He is an interesting person, I think/I’m sure.

    (3)  I think/I’m sure (that) he is an interesting person.

    Nonetheless, the question remains whether the development of the two constructions can be accounted for in the same way, despite the fact that these constructions have different frequency entrenchment and that the predicates belong to two different word classes.

    The aim of the present study is to investigate whether I’m sure follows the same grammaticalization trajectory as I think. The research questions are as follows (see Lehmann, 1985:303, for a discussion of the methodological parameters of grammaticalization used):

    • What is the frequency distribution across the clausal positions (syntagmatic variability)?
    • To what extent is the complementizer that omitted (paradigmatic variability)?
    • Are there any differences across time such that the development of I’m sure could be considered to mirror that of I think?

    The study uses comparable subsets from the spoken component of the BNC (Burnard, 2007; Lee, 2001) and the newly compiled Spoken BNC2014 (Love et al., 2017). The results show that I think and I’m sure exhibit remarkable similarity, especially in the most recent data, not only in terms of their proportional distribution across clausal position, but also in terms of their propensity for that-omission. Even though the time span covered is relatively short, a clear increase of that-omission can be noted for I’m sure, for which the frequency increased from 93 to 98 percent, thus mirroring the frequencies for I think (99 percent) very closely. In order to reconcile the fact that I think and I’m sure thus exhibit similar behavior, despite differences in frequency entrenchment, we argue that both constructions are part of the same constructional grammaticalization schema in which the frequency of I think seems to reinforce the grammaticalization of both I think and I’m sure.

  • 16.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    et al.
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Larsson, Tove
    Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium; Uppsala universitet.
    Using the BNC and the Spoken BNC2014 to Study the Syntactic Development of I Think and I’m Sure2019In: English Studies: A Journal of English Language, ISSN 0013-838X, E-ISSN 1744-4217, Vol. 100, no 6, p. 710-727Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    This study investigates whether I’m sure seems to be on the same grammaticalisation trajectory as I think. It does so by tracking the frequency of these two constructions over time to explore (i) their distribution across clausal positions (syntagmatic variability) and (ii) the extent to which the complementiser that is omitted (paradigmatic variability). The study uses spoken data from the BNC and the newly compiled Spoken BNC2014. The results show that the two constructions exhibit remarkable similarity, not only in terms of their proportional distribution across clausal positions, but also in terms of their propensity for that-omission. For example, both constructions show adverb-like behaviour with regard to clausal positions. Furthermore, even though the time span covered is relatively short, a clear increase in that-omission was noted for I’m sure, mirroring the frequencies for I think very closely. It thus seems that I’m sure is on the same path as I think, despite differences in frequency entrenchment

  • 17.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    et al.
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Larsson, Tove
    Wang, Ying
    Acikara Eickhoff, Seda
    Sundqvist, Pia
    Exploring the effect of target-language extramural activities on students’ written production2022Conference paper (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    Frequent engagement in extramural English (EE) activities (i.e., English-language activities that students engage in outside of the classroom) has been shown to positively influence not only high school students’ vocabulary size and listening and reading comprehension, but also their oral proficiency (see, e.g., Sundqvist 2009; 2019; Sylvén & Sundqvist 2012). However, while previous studies have greatly contributed to our understanding of the relationship between EE and students’ receptive knowledge as measured through formal tests (e.g., of vocabulary, Sundqvist 2019), our understanding of the relationship between such activities and students’ production remains somewhat rudimentary (though see Sundqvist & Wikström 2015 and Olsson & Sylvén 2015). What is more, whereas vocabulary knowledge (both receptive and productive) features prominently in studies on EE, syntactic and broader lexical aspects have received very limited focus. As both syntactic and lexical complexity have been shown to be strongly correlated with writing quality (Casal & Lee 2019; Kyle & Crossley 2016), examining the relationship between EE activities and linguistic complexity would help us better understand the role that such activities play for students’ language development.

  • 18.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    et al.
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Larsson, Tove
    Wang, Ying
    Acikara Eickhoff, Seda
    Sundqvist, Pia
    On the impact of extramural activities on L2 student writing2023Conference paper (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    Frequent engagement in extramural English (EE) activities (i.e., out-of-school English-language activities) has been shown to positively influence high school students’ vocabulary size (Sundqvist 2009). However, given the focus on receptive knowledge in previous studies, our understanding of the relationship between EE activities and students’ production remains somewhat rudimentary. What is more, syntactic and broader lexical aspects have received very limited focus. Against this background, the present study examines the effect of EE activities on both lexical diversity and NP complexity in high school student writing. The following research questions are investigated:   

    • What effect (if any) does EE activities have on lexical diversity and/or NP complexity?
    • Are there differences between purely receptive EE activities and other types of EE activities in terms of the effect of lexical diversity and NP complexity, and, if so, what are the differences? 

    A subsample of the Swedish Learner English Corpus (SLEC) is used (grades 10–11; n=200). SLEC contains detailed information about how many hours per week students engage in five different EE activities (reading, watching, conversation, social media, gaming). 

    To measure lexical diversity, moving average type-token ratio is used. To measure NP complexity, the rate of occurrence of attributive adjectives and prepositional phrases as modifiers in NPs is used. 

    In order to test the effect of EE on lexical diversity and NP complexity, we applied measured variable path analysis from the Structural Equation Modeling framework. The best-fitting model (χ2: 16.8, df: 15, CFI: 96.6, RMSEA: 0.023[0.00–0.067], SRMR: 0.039) confirmed our hypotheses that (a) participation in EE activities has a (mostly) positive effect on lexical diversity and NP complexity, (b) that the activities grouped differently based on type, where the purely receptive activities (in particular reading) each had an effect on lexical diversity, in a way that the other EE activities did not.

  • 19.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    et al.
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Larsson, Tove
    Wang, Ying
    Acikara Eickhoff, Seda
    Sundqvist, Pia
    The effect of English extramural activities on L2 students’ lexical diversity and grammatical complexity2023Conference paper (Refereed)
  • 20.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    et al.
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Larsson, Tove
    Northern Arizona University, USA.
    Wang, Ying
    Karlstads universitet.
    Acikara-Eickhoff, Seda
    Northern Arizona University, USA.
    Sundqvist, Pia
    University of Oslo, Norway.
    Exploring the effects of target-language extramural activities on students’ written production2023In: Journal of second language writing, ISSN 1060-3743, E-ISSN 1873-1422, Vol. 62, article id 101062Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    Frequent engagement in English extramural activities (i.e., activities that take place outside the classroom) has been found to have a positive impact on EFL learners’ vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. In the present study, we aim to extend our knowledge of the possible impact of extramural activities into the realm of second-language writing. Specifically, we investigate the relationship among a number of English extramural activities and two aspects of writing development: lexical diversity and noun phrase complexity. The data are drawn from the Swedish Learner English Corpus (SLEC) which includes texts produced by Swedish secondary school students. The corpus also includes information on how many hours per week students (i) engage in conversations in English, (ii) communicate in English while playing computer/video games, (iii) read in English, (iv) spend time on social media with English content, (v) and watch TV shows or movies in English. The results show that reading in English leads to higher frequency of adjectival modification, whereas conversing in English and watching TV programs positively impact lexical diversity. The results of the study have implications for discussions about the role of L2 classroom instruction vis-à-vis learners’ extramural activities.

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  • 21.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    et al.
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Wang, Ying
    Larsson, Tove
    Introducing the Swedish Learner English Corpus2023Conference paper (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    In this paper, we introduce the Swedish Learner English Corpus (SLEC). SLEC is a recently compiled learner corpus containing argumentative texts written by Swedish junior and senior high school students. The first version of SLEC includes 1,098 texts with a total of 481,155 words. SLEC provides rich metadata on the students’ background, making it possible to empirically study relations between the linguistic properties of student texts and various extralinguistic and learner variables. What sets SLEC apart from many other learner corpora is the fact that it contains detailed information about the students’ extramural English (EE) activities (i.e., English-language activities that students engage in outside of the classroom). Specifically, the corpus includes information on how many hours per week students (i) read in English, (ii) watch TV shows or movies in English, (iii) engage in conversations in English, (iv) use social media with English content, and (v) communicate in English while playing computer/video games. In addition, a subset of SLEC has been orthographically cleaned to allow for higher accuracy in terms of (i) lexical searches, (ii) type-token counts, and (iii) automatic identification of syntactic complexity features. SLEC also includes a subset that has been assessed for proficiency using the CEFR scale. In the paper, we will describe the compilation process and give a detailed presentation of the metadata included. We will also discuss and exemplify different ways in which the corpus can be used by both students and researchers.

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  • 22.
    Larsson, Tove
    et al.
    Université catholique de Louvain; Uppsala Universitet.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Extraposition in learner and expert writing: Exploring (in)formality and the impact of register2019In: International Journal of Learner Corpus Research, ISSN 2215-1478, E-ISSN 2215-1486, Vol. 5, no 1, p. 33-62Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    Subject extraposition (e.g. it is important to remember) is generally regarded to be a formal construction that learners, whose writing is often said to be overly informal, have been found to struggle with. This study investigates to what extent register and text type can be used to explore learners’ reportedly “informal” use of this construction. Learner writing is compared to expert writing from several different registers and to native-speaker student writing. The results show that there are important differences across both registers and text types. Furthermore, while the learners’ use is most like that of the experts’ academic writing, certain similarities to the non-academic registers were also noted. The results moreover suggest that earlier claims about the informal status of learner writing seem mainly to have been influenced by the text types included in the corpora previously investigated.

  • 23.
    Larsson, Tove
    et al.
    Uppsala University; Northern Arizona University.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Syntactic complexity across registers: Investigating (in)formality in second-language writing2020In: Journal of English for Academic Purposes, ISSN 1475-1585, E-ISSN 1878-1497, Vol. 45, article id 100850Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    Syntactic complexity (i.e. the grammatical sophistication exhibited in language production) has been found to be positively correlated with formality. In viewing formality as a cline rather than as a dichotomy, the present study revisits previous claims about (in)formality in learner writing in relation to syntactic complexity. The use of commonly utilized measures of syntactic complexity is explored in learner writing and across four registers from the British National Corpus (academic prose, popular science, news and fiction). The results show that while the learners generally exhibited appropriate register awareness, there were some differences noted between their writing and that of the published writers, in particular with regard to the measure of complex nominals. A detailed analysis of this measure in the academic register showed that the learners make less frequent use of adjectival and prepositional modifiers than the expert writers. Our results thus confirm previous claims about the importance of phrase-level complexity measures as a predictor of formality. It would seem that learners would benefit from some targeted instruction of such structures for increased register awareness.

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  • 24.
    Larsson, Tove
    et al.
    Université catholique de Louvain; Uppsala Universitet.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Syntactic complexity across registers: Investigating (in)formality in student writing2019In: LANGUAGE IN TIME TIME IN LANGUAGE - ICAME40: Book of abstracts, 2019, no 1Conference paper (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    While syntactic complexity is often used to measure linguistic development in second-language (L2) writing (e.g. Housen & Simoens, 2016), it has also been found to be correlated with formality, as formal, academic texts tend to be characterized by elaborate and diverse language (e.g. Biber, 2016). This paper aims to investigate the relative importance of measures of syntactic complexity across registers in expert production and in non-native-speaker (NNS) and native-speaker (NS) student writing to test previous claims of (in)formality, as outlined below.

    Student writers, in particular learners, are often descried as being overly informal in their writing (e.g. Altenberg & Tapper, 1998). However, such claims tend to be based primarily on over/underuse of a limited number of features, and few studies have sought to investigate formality in a more systematic manner. Based on the assumption that registers can be used as reference points on a scale from informal to formal (Larsson & Kaatari, 2019), the present study bridges this gap in the literature by mapping out the distribution of 14 complexity measures (e.g. phrasal sophistication, subordination and sentence complexity; see, e.g., Lu, 2017) across five registers (academic prose, popular science, news, fiction and conversation) and in NNS and NS student data. The following research questions are investigated:

    • What is the relative importance of these complexity measures for predicting formality, and in what ways are these measures correlated?
    • How do these measures pattern across registers?
    • Which of the experts’ registers is the student writers’ use closest to, and what can this tell us about (in)formality in the student texts?

    The study uses data from one expert corpus, BNC-15, two learner corpora, ALEC and VESPA, and one NS student corpora, BAWE. The study uses inferential and explorative statistics, such as Random Forests. The results show that the degree of phrasal sophistication is more important than measures such as amount of subordination for predicting register. While the student texts bear some resemblance to the expert academic writing (e.g. both groups score high on complex nominals per T-unit), they also exhibit features that are associated with the non-academic registers (e.g. shorter clause length), which might offer some support for the claim that student writers tend to be somewhat informal in their writing. The results will hopefully contribute to nuancing the perceived informal-formal dichotomy, thereby benefitting both L2 instruction and theory.

    References

    Altenberg, Bengt & Marie Tapper. 1998. The use of adverbial connectors in advanced Swedish learners’ written English. In Sylviane Granger (ed.), Learner English on computer, 80–93. London: Longman.

    Biber, Doug. 2016. Using MD analysis to explore cross-linguistic universals of register-variation. In Marie-Aude Lefer & Svetlana Vogeleer (eds.), Genre and register-related discourse features in contrast, 7–34. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

    Housen, Alex & Hannelore Simoens. 2016. Cognitive perspectives on difficulty and complexity in L2 acquisition. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 38. 163–175.

    Larsson, Tove & Henrik Kaatari. 2019. Extraposition in learner and expert writing: Exploring (in)formality and the impact of register. International Journal of Learner Corpus Research 5(1). 33–62.

    Lu, Xiaofei. 2017. Automated measurement of syntactic complexity in corpus-based L2 writing research and implications for writing assessment. Language Testing 34(4). 493–511.

  • 25.
    Larsson, Tove
    et al.
    UCLouvain.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Syntactic complexity in L2 writing: Testing different measures across levels of formality2019In: EUROCALL Conference 2019 “CALL and Complexity”: Book of abstracts / [ed] Serge Bibauw, Louvain-la-Neuve: European Association of Computer Assisted Language Learning , 2019, p. 60-Conference paper (Refereed)
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  • 26.
    Larsson, Tove
    et al.
    Northern Arizona University; Uppsala University.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Dixon, Tülay
    Oxford College of Emory University.
    Egbert, Jesse
    Northern Arizona University.
    Examining novice writers’ perceptions of formality2023In: Journal of English for Research Publication Purposes, ISSN 2590-0994, Vol. 4, no 1, p. 29-55Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    Adherence to standards pertaining to formality remains important for novice academic writers wishing to write within the scientific community. However, due to its elusive nature, it may not be clear what “formal” really means. This study investigates what affects novice writers’ perceptions of formality; specifically, it looks at the individual and combined impact of register (journal articles vs. academic blog posts) and linguistic features with two variants (e.g., split vs. non-split infinitives). The writers (n=117) were presented with a series of binary choices between register-feature combinations and asked to select the most formal combination. This resulted in a rank-ordered list showing which combinations they perceived as more formal. The results showed that the novice writers’ perceptions largely aligned with the expected rankings, in that journal articles and the feature variant associated with this register tended to be perceived as more formal than the alternative. These trends were especially strong for two of the features investigated: exclamation points and contractions. In bringing us one step closer to understanding how novice writers think about formality, this study helps shed some light on the commonly used, but less commonly defined, concept of formality. 

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  • 27. Larsson, Tove
    et al.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Dixon, Tülay
    Egbert, Jesse
    Examining students’ perceptions of formality in academic writing2022Conference paper (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    As part of their socialization into the scientific community, students are introduced to language norms detailing what constitutes successful written communication at university level (Duff, 2010). One notion that is often brought up is that of formality, and students are asked to make their writing “sufficiently formal”. However, this is not always an easy task, given the elusive nature of this concept. 

    This study aims to investigate to what extent factors such as register (journal articles vs. academic blog posts), prescriptive and descriptive linguistic features with two variants (e.g., split vs. non-split infinitives) affect students’ perceptions of formality. To investigate this, 117 undergraduate college students were presented with a series of binary choices that enabled a systematic comparison of all possible combinations of two registers and six linguistic features, resulting in a rank-ordered list showing which combinations of register and feature are perceived as most formal.

    The results show that the combination perceived as most formal was journal articles with a formal variant, followed by journal articles with an informal variant, blog posts with a formal variant, and blog posts with an informal variant (p=0.011; Cramer’s V: 0.039). This trend was especially strong for the proscribed features exclamation points and contractions. However, the distributions for other features went against this overall trend. For example, split infinitives (to correctly interpret) were perceived as more formal than the non-split variant (to interpret correctly) regardless of register, which suggests that the effect of proscriptive norms might not be as stable as previously thought, and may in fact be changing. In bringing us one step closer to understanding how students think about formality, this study can help to inform both EAP theory and practice.

  • 28.
    Thomas, Kavita Elisheba
    et al.
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Agreement in analytical and holistic assessment of the English 5 National Test in writing,focusing on the criterion of variation: An interview study of experienced teachers’ assessment2023Conference paper (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    Assessment of upper secondary national tests in English varies considerably between teachers (e.g., Tengberg & Skar, 2016; Borger, 2021; Frisch, 2021). This is problematic as it reduces the validity of grades across teachers. The Swedish upper secondary course curriculum (Lp21) involves assessment criteria that focus on clarity and fluency, coherence, variation and adaptation to different contexts. These rubrics appear in grading criteria for the different skills (receptive, productive and interactive), with only small differences in phrasing distinguishing grades. For example, considering variation in written production in English 5, the criteria state ‘some variation’ for grades E and C and ‘varied’ for grade A, without specifying what types of variation are required at different levels. Assessing pupils’ texts is thus a matter of interpretation. Furthermore, assessment is a multifactorial process, where variation is just one of several criteria used to assess written production, which may explain some of the differences in grades reported by Tengberg and Skar (2016). In this talk we aim to focus on one area of assessment: variation in written production. We present an interview study of experienced teachers’ holistic and analytical assessment of an English 5 student text responding to a National Test writing assignment. We asked teachers to assess texts on individual rubrics and also provide overall grades and explain their reasoning behind the assessment. We aim to illustrate that the variation in grades seen by Tengberg and Skar in reading comprehension also applies to written production and argue for the need for clearer assessment criteria. 

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  • 29.
    Wang, Ying
    et al.
    Karlstads universitet.
    Kaatari, Henrik
    University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Humanities, English.
    Let’s say: Phraseological patterns of SAY in academic ELF communication2021In: Journal of English for Academic Purposes, ISSN 1475-1585, E-ISSN 1878-1497, Vol. 54, article id 101046Article in journal (Refereed)
    Abstract [en]

    Formulaic sequences (e.g., on the other hand, for example, as can be seen) are prevalent in academic discourse. Apart from their various functions, research in the field has uncovered a range of contextual and individual factors associated with the use of formulaic sequences, including genre, discipline, and the user’s L1 as well as expertise level. However, most previous studies focus on written discourse and employ a frequency-based approach (e.g., lexical bundles, n-grams). The inherent limitations of the approach are of particular relevance to ELF communication, which involves a high degree of flexibility adaptability. The present study aims to explore features of formulaicity in spoken ELF academic discourse. Through a close examination of the phraseo-logical patterns of one verb SAY in a one-million-word corpus of spoken ELF communication in academic settings, the present study is able to overcome some of the limitations of the frequency approach, thereby shedding further light on formulaicity in language use characterising this particular community and its relationship with factors such as event type, discipline, and individual preference. 

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