Complexity Activity 1: 

Impact of task on syntactic complexity

Please read the information about complexity before working through these activities.

The complexity of learner language can be seen in different ways. In written language, one looks at the complexity of sentences, or sometimes T-units; in oral language, one looks at the complexity of AS-units. An AS-unit (Analysis of Speech unit) is "a single speaker’s utterance consisting of an independent clause or subclausal unit, together with any subordinate clause(s) associated with it" (Foster et al. 2000, p. 365).

An independent clause consists of a subject and a verb, and can stand alone. For example,
     mæn mashin daræm (I have a car.)
     mashin dari? (Do you have a car?)

A subclausal unit is a segment that cannot stand alone, although it can be expanded into a full clause by reconstructing omitted elements. For example,
    "fizik’ (Physics) in answer to a question such as "emruz chi khundi?" (What did you study
    dorosteh (That’s right)
    mersi (Thank you)

A subordinate clause is a subclausal unit that includes a predicate and sometimes a subject. For example,
    bæra-ye inkeh gerun-eh (Because it is expensive.)
It would be considered a sentence fragment if it appeared alone.

In this exercise focusing on Pari’s utterances, look at segments of equal length drawn from both the Jigsaw and Comparison tasks. Compare the number of AS-units in the two segments (we have divided the segments into AS-units using this symbol "//"). How many of the AS-units contain both main and subordinate clauses? What other grammatical constructions do you see that show syntactic complexity in this segment?

False starts, hesitations, and repetitions were not included in the word count; they are highlighted in the text below. You might decide to include these if you think these are important for some reason. Words in italics are not counted as AS-units here.

From Pari’s Jigsaw

20 P areh, //um, khuneh-æm do ta derækt dareh, derækht dareh. //khob.
22 P Mæn hæm dær-e sefid daræm,// khub, eee.
24 P næ, //mashinæm kenar-e khuneh-æm nist, //um, aaa, shayæd tuye parking-e <laugh>// nemidunæm.//
29 P   yek khuneh kenar, // oh bebækhshid// dorost nemigæm,// um, do ta khuneh
30 P kenar-e khuneh-æm vojud dareh, vojud darænd.//
32 P um, aa, ..oh, khuneh-æt hæyat dari?//
34 P hæyat,// um, chæmaan  midunæm,// miduni chæman?// aaa
36 P sæbz <laugh>//
38 P hæyat daræm,// æmma kheili kutah-st//

Transcript (PDF)

From Pari’s Comparison

27 P khob, motmæen nistæm keh um, keh, um, keh kargær keh tu-ye in khuneh zendegi mikoneh, mashin dareh,//
28 P fekr mikonæm be væsileye otobus, um, hærekæt mikoneh.//
30 P um, bæche-ha keh, um, dær in khuneh zendegi mikonænd, chænd sal darænd?//
34 P <laugh> um, bæche khubænd ya sheytunæn?//  Sheytuniæn?//
41 P cheh khub.<laugh>//
43 P areh// do ta bæcheh dareh. //do ta dokhtær dareh.//
47 P næ,// madær-o pedær, pedær-eshun tælagh shod, or, tælagh gereft…tænd, //

Transcript (PDF)

Please type your answers to the questions in the box below.

When you have finished typing your answer, click to compare your response with the Learner Language staff response.

Pari’s Jigsaw Pari’s Comparison
48 words
17 AS-units
No subordinate clause
Shortest AS-units:
One word, line 20: areh; line 24: næ.
Longest AS-unit:
6 words, line 29-30: do ta khuneh kenar-e khuneh-æm vojud dareh, vojud darænd.
48 words
11 AS-units
2 subordinate clauses  (Lines 27 & 30)
Shortest AS-units:
One word, line 43: areh; line 47: næ.
Longest AS-unit:
12-13 words: khob, motmæen nistæm keh um, keh, um, keh kargær keh tu-ye in khuneh zendegi mikoneh, mashin dareh

Pari uses fewer, but longer, AS-units in the Comparison Task than in the Jigsaw Task. In the Jigsaw Task, her AS-units are between 1 and 6 words long, while in the Comparison Task, the AS-units are between 1 and 12 words long.  She uses two subordinate clauses in the Comparison Task but none in the Jigsaw Task; in other words, she produces more complex syntactic structures in the Comparison Task.

Line 27: motmæen nistæm keh um, keh, um, keh kargær keh tu-ye in khuneh zendegi mikoneh, mashin dareh.
  I’m not sure that the worker, who lives in this house, has a car.

This relative clause derives from a basic structure consisting of more than one sentence.  "I don’t think that the man has a car" and a subordinate clause "the man lives in this house." "keh(who)" after "kargar" is the relative pronoun in this sentence, and has the same referent in the "jomleye payeh (main sentence)" and "jomleye peyro (subordinate clause)".

Line 30: bæche-ha keh, um, dær in khuneh zendegi mikonænd, chænd sal darænd?
  Children who live in this house, how old are they?
(How old are the children who live in this house?)

Now, if you would like to explore more about the language complexity and task demand, we encourage you to look at the entire transcript and/or watch the videos of the Jigsaw and the Comparison Task. Compare AS-units with subordinate clauses, relative and/or embedded clauses from these two tasks. Think about what it was about the Comparison Task that made our learners produce longer and more complex sentences than they did in the Jigsaw.


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