The relative clause in college freshman writing: A quantitative developmental study

Hislop, William Lindsay.   University of South Carolina ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,  1989. 9005119.

Abstract (summary)

This is a developmental study which examines the relative clauses in the freshman English papers of sixteen college students, eight basic writers who took ENGL 100, 101, and 102, and eight others who took only ENGL 101 and 102. It is a detailed descriptive study of a number of features in these clauses intended to determine if there are shifts evident in the students' use of these features, particularly shifts from patterns characteristic of speech to patterns characteristic of writing. The distinctions between these patterns are drawn from empirical studies available in the literature.

The study examines 1440 relative clauses from students' papers and an additional 307 relative clauses from the textbooks used in the students' classes. These later clauses are taken to represent the target language of the students. The writings in the study are examined for a number of features which have been shown to be different in the spoken and written codes: use of nonrestrictives, choice of relativizer, syntactic position of both the relativizer and the head, the relationship between relativizer and head, and pied-piping. In addition to these, several other features were also examined: number of clauses per 100 words, length of clauses, frequency and length of intervening material, and consistency of punctuation. These features are examined both developmentally (through each student's sequence of courses) and comparatively (between basic writers, other freshman writers, and published authors).

Each feature was examined in light of a number of hypotheses designed to test the students' progress. The analysis was conducted by coding the clauses for the relevant features and analyzing the code strings with the VARBRUL 2 program to determine frequency of the factors.

None of the hypotheses were upheld to a statistically significant degree. This was the result of rather wide variation within groups and students within groups moving in opposite directions. However, subgroups of students showed directional shifts and furnished marginal indication of acquisition of written patterns. Opposing tendencies were found for the two groups in regard to several features.

Indexing (details)

Language arts;
0290: Linguistics
0279: Language arts
Identifier / keyword
Education; Language, literature and linguistics
The relative clause in college freshman writing: A quantitative developmental study
Hislop, William Lindsay
Number of pages
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 50/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
University of South Carolina
University location
United States -- South Carolina
Source type
Dissertation or Thesis
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
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