Word-formation complexity: a learner corpus-based study
This article explores the word-formation dimension of learner text complexity which indicates how skilful the non-native speakers are in using more and less complex - and varied - derivational constructions. In order to analyse the association between complexity and writing accuracy in word formation as well as interactive effects of task type, text register, and native language background, we examine the materials of the REALEC corpus of English essays written by university students with Russian L1. We present an approach to measure derivational complexity based on the classification of suffixes offered in Bauer and Nation (1993) and then compare the complexity results and the number of word formation errors annotated in the texts. Starting with the hypothesis that with increasing complexity the number of errors will decrease, we apply statistical analysis to examine the association between complexity and accuracy. We found, first, that the use of more advanced word-formation suffixes affects the number of errors in texts. Second, different levels of suffixes in the hierarchy affect derivation accuracy in different ways. In particular, the use of irregular derivational models is positively associated with the number of errors. Third, the type of examination task and expected format and register of writing should be taken into consideration. The hypothesis holds true for regular but infrequent advanced suffixal models used in more formal descriptive essays associated with an academic register. However, for less formal texts with lower academic register requirements, the hypothesis needs to be amended.