Processing theories (Clahsen, 1984; Pienemann, 1997) have argued that the production of subordinate clauses is the last stage in the development of the second language learner. However, these theories did not refer to details about the development of accuracy and frequency of the production of subordinate clauses in second language learners' speech. They also did not investigate the relation between proficiency level and the production of complex syntax. Thus, more knowledge was required about the development of frequency and accuracy of complex syntax in EFL learners, and the relation between this development and proficiency level. Moreover, both second language and first language research (i.e. Salaberry& Lopez-Ortega, 1998) found that the production of subordinate clauses was greatly influenced by the nature of the task or the discourse genre. Most of first language research also found that the frequency of complex syntax increased in expository discourse more than other genres (i.e. Nippold et al., 2007). However, second language research did not focus on the development of complex syntax in oral expository discourse. This highlighted the need to investigate the development of complex syntax through expository discourse. Hence, the purpose of this study was to investigate the development of complex syntax across three proficiency levels of EFL learners through oral expository discourse. An exploratory quantitative design was used. A number of syntactic structures were targeted to measure fluency, grammatical accuracy, and syntactic complexity. The speech of adult Egyptian EFL learners was observed and audio-recorded in general English classes at the School of Continuing Education at the American University in Cairo. Each participant delivered an expository oral presentation on their plans to achieve success in their lives. Each presentation was transcribed and coded for investigating eleven syntactic variables including error-free utterances, and three types of subordinate clauses (nominal, adverbial, relative). Subordinate clauses were also coded for errors to investigate the development of syntactic and grammatical accuracy. Finally, all data was quantitatively analyzed using ANOVA. Results showed statistically significant differences for all variables except for MLU, erroneous relative clauses, adverbial clauses and erroneous adverbial clauses. The most sensitive indicators of oral proficiency development included word/minute and Error-Free utterances/minute. Other variables showed development across all levels except between intermediate and advanced. These variables were percentage of error-free utterances, clausal density and nominal clauses. Finally, variables that showed development only across non- consecutive levels were relative clauses and erroneous nominal clauses. Pedagogical implications included the use of the findings in the assessment of oral proficiency and in guiding course designers.

Degree Name

MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

Graduation Date


Submission Date

June 2010

First Advisor

Williams, Robert

Second Advisor

Agameya, Amira



Document Type

Master's Thesis

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1

English language -- Syntax.

Library of Congress Subject Heading 2

Language acquisition -- Egypt.


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Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

Not necessary for this item