Sahiruddin Sahiruddin


This paper examines the role of syntactic complexity in L2 reading outcomes across different EFL proficiency levels in an Indonesian university. Indonesian university students (N = 148) at Intermediate and Advanced levels of proficiency read four English passages differing in syntactic complexity. The latter was measured by several widely used text modelling tools. Participants read two low and two high complexity texts and completed a post-test comprehension test. Syntactic complexity had a statistically significant but low magnitude effect size, accounting for 2%-5% of the variance of reading performance between the L2 English proficiency levels. There were also noticeable differences in text analysis measures across the different complexity tools. The usefulness of syntactic complexity as an isolated dimension of text complexity is evaluated. The contribution of this study to the field both in theory and practice is presented.


readability; reading outcomes; syntactic complexity.

Full Text:



Anderson, N. J. (1999a). Exploring second language reading: Issues and strategies. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.

Anderson, N. J. (1999b). Exploring Second Language Reading: Issues and Strategies. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

Anderson, N. J. (2000). Assessing reading. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Anderson, R., & Davidson, A. (1986). Conceptual and empirical bases of readability formulas. USA: Bolt, Beranek and Newman.

Arya, D. J., Hiebert, E. H., & Pearson, P. D. (2011). The effects of syntactic and lexical complexity on the comprehension of elementary science texts. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 4(1), 107-125.

Bachman, L. F. (2002). Some reflections on task‐based language performance assessment. Language Testing,, 9(4), 453-476.

Barrot, J. S. (2013). Revisiting the role of linguistic complexity in ESL reading comprehension. 3L: The Southeast Asian Journal of English Language Studies, 19(1), 5-18.

Beers, S. F., & Nagy, W. E. (2009). Syntactic complexity as a predictor of adolescent writing quality: Which measures? Which genre? Read Writ, 22, 185–200. doi: 10.1007/s11145-007-9107-5

Berman, R. (1984). Syntactic components of the FL reading process. In J. C. ALDERSON & A. H. URQUHART (Eds.), Reading in a Foreign Language. USA: Longman.

Bernhardt, E. B., & Kamil, M. L. (1995). Interpreting relationships between L1 and L2 reading: Consolidating the linguistic interdependent hypothesis. Applied Linguistics, 16, 15-34.

Carpenter, P. A., & Just, M. A. (1977). Reading comprehension as eyes see it. In M. A. Just & P. A. Carpenter (Eds.), Cognitive processes in comprehension (pp. 109-139). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Carpenter, P. A., Miyake, A., & Just, M. A. (1994). Working memory constraints in comprehension: Evidence from individual differences, aphasia, and aging. In M. A. Gernsbacher (Ed.), Handbook of Psycholinguistics (pp. 1075-1022). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Carrol, J. B. (1972). Defining language comprehension: Some speculations. In J. R. Carroll & R. O. Freedle (Eds.), Language comprehension and the acquisition of knowledge. Washington, D.C.: Winston & Sons.

Carroll, D. W. (2008). Psychology of language (5 ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Chall, J. S., & Dale, E. (1995). Readability revisited - The New Dale-Chall readability formula. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.

Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical Power Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Coleman, E. B. (1964). The comprehensibility of several grammatical transformations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 48, 186-190.

Crossley, S. A., Louwerse, M. M., McCarthy, P. M., & McNamara, D. S. (2007). A Linguistic Analysis of Simplified and Authentic Texts. The Modern Language Journal, 91(1), 15-30.

Daneman, M., & Carpenter, A., Patricia. (1980). Individual Differences in Working Memory and Reading. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 19, 450-466.

Daneman, M., & Merikle, P. M. (1996). Working memory and language comprehension: A meta-analysis. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 3(4), 422-433.

Davidson, A., & Green, G. (1988). Introduction. In A. Davidson & G. Green (Eds.), Linguistic complexity and text comprehension: Readability issue considered (pp. 1-4). Hillsdale NJ: Erlbaum.

Davison, A., Wilson, P., & Herman, G. (1986). Effects of syntactic connectives and organizing cues on text comprehension. Champaign, IL: Center for the Study of Reading.

Davy, E., & Davy, K. (2002). Reading and vocabulary workbook for TOEFL exam. United State of America: Thomson Arco.

Duffy, C. B., & Mahnke, M. K. (1998). The Heinemann ELT TOEFL Practice Test. New York: Macmillan Publishers Limited.

Ellis, R. (2009). The Differential Effects of Three Types of Task Planning on the Fluency, Complexity, and Accuracy in L2 Oral Production. Applied Linguistics, 30(4), 474-509. doi: 10.1093/applin/amp042

Field, A. (2009). Discovering Statistics using SPSS (Third ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications Inc.

Flesch, R. (1948). A new readability yardstick. Journal of Applied Psychology, 32(3), 221-223.

Flesch, R. (1951). How to test readability. New York: Harper.

Flesch, R. (1979). How to write plain English. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

Fry, E. (1968). A Readability Formula That Saves Time Journal of Reading, 11(7), 513-516.

Fry, E. (1977). Fry’s readability graph: Clarifications, validity, and extension to Level 17. Journal of Reading, 21, 242-252.

Fulcher, G. (1997). Text Difficulty and Accessibility: Reading Formulae and Expert Judgement System, 25(4), 497-513.

Goodman, K. S. (1967). Reading: A psycholinguistic guessing game. Journal of the reading specialist, 6, 126–135., 6, 126-135.

Grabe, W. (2009). Reading in a second language: Moving from theory to practice. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Graesser, A. C., McNamara, D. S., Louwerse, M. M., & Cai, Z. (2004). Coh-Metrix: Analysis of text on cohesion and language. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 36(2), 193-202.

Greenfield, G. R. (1999). Classic readability formulas in an EFL context: Are they valid for Japanese speaker? (Doctor of Education Dissertation), Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, United States. (9938670)

Greenfield, J. (2004). Readability formulas for EFL. JALT Journal, 26(1), 5-24.

Hamsik, M. J. (1984). Reading, readability, and the ESL reader. (Doctoral Dissertation), University of South Florida.

Harrington, M., & Sawyer, M. (1992). L2 Working Memory Capacity And L2 Reading Skill. SSLA, 14, 25-38.

Hiebert, E. H. (2012). Standard 10 of the Common Core State Standards: Examining Three Assumptions about Text Complexity. Katie Van Sluys, DePaul University. TextProject & University of California, Santa Cruz.

Homburg, T. J. (1984). Holistic Evaluation of ESL Compositions: Can It Be Validated Objectively? . TESOL Quarterly, 18(1), 87-107.

Hunt, K. W. (1970). Syntactic Maturity in Schoolchildren and Adult. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 35(1), 1-67.

Initiative, C. C. S. S. (2010). Common Core State Standards for English language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects:. Retrieved August 27, 2014, from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Iwashita, N. (2006). Syntactic Complexity Measures and Their Relation to Oral Proficiency in Japanese as a Foreign Language. Language Assessment Quarterly, 3(2), 151-169. doi: 10.1207/s15434311laq0302_4

Iwashita, N., Brown, A., Mcnamara, T., & O’hagan, S. (2008). Assessed Levels of Second Language Speaking Proficiency: How Distinct? Applied Linguistics, 29(1), 24–49. doi: 10.1093/applin/amm017

Just, M. A., & Carpenter, P. A. (1992). A capacity theory of comprehension: Individual differences in working memory Psychological Review, 99(1), 122-149.

Karami, M., & Salahshoor, F. (2014). The relative significance of lexical richness and syntactic complexity as predictors of academic reading performance. International Journal of Research Studies in Language Learning, 3(2), 17-28. doi: 10.5861/ijrsll.2013.477

Kintsch, W. (1998). Comprehension: A framework for cognition. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Koda, K. (1988). Cognitive process in second language reading: transfer of L1 reading skills and strategies. Second Language Research, 4, 133-155. doi: 10.1177/026765838800400203

Koda, K. (2005). Insights into Second Language Reading: A cross-linguistic approach. New Yrok: Cambridge University Press.

Koizumi, R., & In’nami, Y. (2013). Vocabulary Knowledge and Speaking Proficiency among Second Language Learners from Novice to Intermediate Levels. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 4(5), 900-913. doi: 10.4304/jltr.4.5.900-913

Kweldju, S. (1997). English Department Students’ Vocabulary Size and the Development of a Model of Extensive Reading with Individualized Vocabulary Learning. Singapore: SEAMEO-Regional Language Centre.

Kweldju, S. (2000). Measuring Vocabulary Size and Developing a Model of Individualized Vocabulary Instruction: Integrating Language and Content. Indonesia: Directorate General of Higher Education, Ministry of Education and Culture.

Kweldju, S. (2002). Pengajaran Bahasa Inggris Berbasis Leksikon: Sebuah Alternatif Yang tepat untuk Pengajaran Bahasa Inggris di Indonesia. State University of Malang.

Laufer, B. (1989). What percentage of word lexis is essential for comprehension. In C. Lauren & M. Nordman (Eds.), Special language: from human thinking to thinking machines. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Laufer, B. (1992). How much lexis is necessary for reading comprehension? In H. B. P. Arnaud (Ed.), Vocabulary and applied linguistics (pp. 126-132). London: MacMillan.

Laufer, B. (1997). The lexical plight in second language reading: Words you don’t know, words you think you know, and words you can’t guess. In J. Coady & T. Huckin (Eds.), Second language vocabulary acquisition (pp. 20-34). Cambridge England: Cambridge University Press.

Lennon, C., & Burdick, H. (2014). The lexile framework as an approach for reading measurement and success. MetaMetrics.

McNamara, D. S., Louwerse, M. M., McCarthy, P. M., & Graesser, A. C. (2010 ). Coh-Metrix: Capturing Linguistic Features of Cohesion. Discourse Processes, 47(4), 292-330. doi: 10.1080/01638530902959943

Morris, L., & Cobb, T. (2004). Vocabulary profiles as predictors of the academic performance of Teaching English as a Second Language trainees. System, 32, 75-87. doi: 10.1016/j.system.2003.05.001

Muldjani, D., Koda, K., & Moates, D. R. (1998). The development of word recognition in a second language. Applied Psycholinguistics, 19, 99-113.

Nagy, W. W., & Scott, J. A. (2000). Vocabulary processes. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (Vol. III, pp. 269-284). Mahwah, NJ: LEA.

Nation, K., & Snowling, M. J. (2010). Factors influencing syntactic awareness skills in normal readers and poor comprehenders. Applied Psycholinguistics, 21, 229–241.

Norman, S., Kemper, S., Kynette, D., Cheung, H., & Anagnopoulos, C. (1992). Syntactic complexity and adults' running memory span. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 46, 346-351.

Nurweni, A., & Read, J. (1999). The English vocabulary knowledge of Indonesian university students. English for Specific Purposes, 18(2), 161-175.

Ortega, L. (2003). Syntactic complexity measures and their relationship to L2 proficiency: A research synthesis of college-level L2 writing. Applied Linguistics, 24(4), 492-518.

Pearson, P. D. (2009). the roots of reading comprehension. In S. E. Israel & G. G. Duffy (Eds.), Handbook of research on reading comprehension (pp. 3-31). New York: Routledge.

Proctor, C. P., Carlo, M., August, D., & Snow, C. (2005). Native Spanish-Speaking Children Reading in English: Toward a Model of Comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(2), 246-256.

Pulido, D. (2004). The Relationship Between Text Comprehension and Second Language Incidental Vocabulary Acquisition: A Matter of Topic amiliarity? Language Learning, 54(3), 469-523.

Pulido, D. (2007). The Effects of Topic Familiarity and Passage Sight Vocabulary on L2 Lexical Inferencing and Retention through Reading. Applied Linguistics, 28(1), 66-86. doi: 10.1093/applin/aml049

Richards, J. C., & Renandya, W. A. (2002). Methodology in Language Teaching: An Anthology of Current Practice. USA: Cambridge University Press.

Roche, T., & Harrington, M. (2013). Recognition vocabulary knowledge as a predictor of academic performance in an English as a foreign language setting. Language Testing in Asia 3-12.

Ruddel, M. R. (1994). Vocabulary knowledge and comprehension: a comprehension process view of complex literary relationship. In M. R. Ruddel & H. Singer (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (pp. 414-447). Newmark DE: International Reading Association.

Sahiruddin. (2008a). Examining the relationship between recognition Yes/No test and reading comprehension in Indonesian EFL context. (Master in TESOL Studies), The University of Queensland, Australia.

Sahiruddin. (2008b). Examining the relationship between vocabulary recognition performance and reading comprehension in Indonesian EFL context. (Master in TESOL STudies), University of Queensland, Australia.

Schmitt, N., Jiang, X., & Grabe, W. (2011). The Percentage of Words Known in a Text and Reading Comprehension. The Modern Language Journal, 95(i), 26-43. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4781.2011.01146.x

Sheehan, K. M., Kostin, I., Futagi, Y., & Flor, M. (2010). Generating Automated Text Complexity Classifications That Are Aligned With Targeted Text Complexity Standards (pp. 1-42). Princeton, New Jersey: Educational Testing Service

Skehan, P. (2009). Modelling Second Language Performance: Integrating Complexity, Accuracy, Fluency, and Lexis. Applied Linguistics, 30(4), 510-532. doi: 10.1093/applin/amp047

Smagorinsky, P. (2001). If Meaning Is Constructed, What Is It Made from? Toward a Cultural Theory of Reading Review of Educational Research, 71(1), 133-169.

Snow, C. E., & Sweet, A. P. (2003). Reading for Comprehension. In A. P. Sweet & C. E. Snow (Eds.), Rethinking reading comprehension (pp. 1-11). New York: Guilford Press.

Stahl, S. A. (1999). Vocabulary development. Cambridge, MA: Brookline.

Stanovich, K. E. (2000). Progress in understanding reading: Scientific foundations and new frontiers. New York: Guilford Press.

Strother, J. B., & Ulijn, J. M. (1987). Does syntactic rewriting affect English for Science and Technology (EST) text comprehension? In J. DEVINE, P. CARRELL & D. ESKEY (Eds.), Research in reading in English as a second language (pp. 89-101). Washington, DC: TESOL.

Ulijn, J. M., & Strother, J. B. (1990). The effect of syntactic simplification on reading EST texts as L1 and L2. Journal of Research in Reading, 13, 38-54.

Wolfe-Quintero, K., Inagaki, S., & Kim, H. (1998). Second language development in writing: Measures of fluency, accuracy, and complexity. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press.

Yamashita, J. (2013). Word recognition subcomponents and passage level reading in a foreign language. Reading in a Foreign Language, 25(1), 52-71.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.30762/jeels.v6i2.1268


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
JEELS by IAIN Kediri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://jurnal.iainkediri.ac.id/index.php/jeels.

View My Stats

Indexed in:

Flag Counter