Syntactic complexity is an issue that has received much attention in linguistic research; nevertheless, it remains a contentious issue and researchers show a great disparity of opinion. Frequently, researchers have claimed that structural complexity is characteristic of the written language (while the syntactic structure of the spoken language is relatively simple); in contrast, a small number of researchers have suggested the opposite view -written texts have simple syntax. Both of these views are extreme because there is an implicit assumption that all written texts necessarily share the same characteristic features.
The current study is a comparative investigation of the sentence level features of certain written texts and specifically, school texts. Textbooks from three school subjects (History, English and Science) were examined to establish the characteristic grammatical features of each subject area and whether there is variation in characteristic grammatical features across subject areas. In addition, Junior and Senior textbooks were compared in order to establish whether these texts show similar syntactic features and more importantly, whether there is a development in syntactic complexity as year levels progress.
This analysis has been carried out using a structural model and is based, to a large extent, upon 'The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language' (Huddleston & Pullum, 2002). While a number of researchers have examined school texts, they have for the most part focussed upon texts that students are required to produce as well as read, as opposed to looking at the full range of texts that students encounter through the curriculum. Furthermore, a large number of these studies have been carried out using a functional model. Thus, this thesis serves to diversify the research into the general area of written language and the more specific area of school texts.
The present study shows that textbooks from different subject areas vary as to the syntactic structures which occur frequently and are therefore characteristic. However, these texts also have a number of grammatical features in common; differences between subject areas lie in the frequency of particular structures and also the characteristic combinations of structures. Moreover, as year levels progress, there is a progression in the frequency of occurrence of certain complex syntactic structures; generally, however, the characteristic pattern remains constant across year levels.
This research helps to establish that there is great variation in both written text types and school texts. Identifying the characteristic features of particular text types has several pedagogical applications. Teachers and students can use such knowledge to discuss the ways in which relevant text types vary. This can assist students' understanding of texts and use of particular structures.