LIU Jinlu, YANG Nan. A Quantitative Exploration on the Syntactic Complexity of English Complex Sentences[J]. Journal of Foreign Languages, 2024, 47(3): 40-52.
Citation: LIU Jinlu, YANG Nan. A Quantitative Exploration on the Syntactic Complexity of English Complex Sentences[J]. Journal of Foreign Languages, 2024, 47(3): 40-52.

A Quantitative Exploration on the Syntactic Complexity of English Complex Sentences

  • Sentences are the highest-level grammatical units, of which complex sentences are the most complicated ones (Quirk et al. 1985: 47). English complex sentences contain one or more subordinate or dependent clauses embedded as sentence constituents. Their syntactic complexity could be measured by two indicators, i.e., clausal density and embedding depth. In the present study, with the aid of Brown and LOB corpus, we made use of the above two indicators to explore the syntactic complexity of English complex sentences. The study found that the threshold of clausal density (CD) was 9 and that of embedding depth (ED) was 4; there existed no differences among different genres or text types, which indicated that the above two indicators were insensitive to the differentiation of syntactic complexity of sentences between different genres; with the help of Altmann-Fitter, we found that the distributions of clausal density and embedding depth fitted the right-truncated modified Zipf-Alekseev model, demonstrating the existence of minimization trend of syntactic complexity. These findings indicated that the universal cognitive factor, namely cognitive load, played a restrictive role in the practical use of human language. This study has great implications for the teaching of English complex sentences and meanwhile, it might provide reference and inspiration for further research on the syntactic complexity of English complex sentences.
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