Gender-based differences in learner English : A syntax study of Swedish high school students’ written production

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Institutionen för pedagogik, didaktik och utbildningsstudier

Abstract:

Female students have long had a perceived advantage over male students in second language ac-quisition. In Swedish schools, the girls have outperformed the boys in the subject of English since the end of the Second World War, but the female students’ edge over the male students has diminished considerably over time. This essay aims to find out if there are any differences in lin-guistic ability between the two genders. The study uses a T-unit based syntax analysis in order to quantify the level of syntactic maturity that Swedish high school students possess, using data drawn from the Uppsala Learner English Corpus. Furthermore, the study aims to research gen-der-based stylistic differences and risk-taking behavior in the student’s writing.

The results show that there are differences in syntactic maturity between the genders, as the female students in junior high school and the male students in senior high school outperform their respective counterparts, particularly in the indices based on error-free T-units. In addition, there are also stylistic disparities, as the female students have a greater focus on personalized ac-counts in their writing and the male students in junior high school have a very sparse and concise style of writing. The conclusion is drawn that while there are differences in syntactic maturity between boys and girls, the syntactic indices cannot accurately display the sophistication of the students’ writing and consequently should only be used in conjunction with more qualitative measures. Finally, while the study is not able to discern risk-taking in the students’ writing, the author concludes that risk-taking is an important factor in second language acquisition, especially considering the fact that the Swedish curricula in junior and senior high school English have a strong focus on communicative competence.

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