Developing noun phrase complexity at school age: A text-embedded cross-linguistic analysis

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Development of noun phrase structure and use is analyzed as an important facet of syntactic acquisition from middle childhood to adolescence. Noun phrases occurring in narrative and expository texts produced in both speech and writing by 96 native speakers of English and Hebrew were identified and examined by a set of specially devised criteria including length in words, syntactic depth, abstractness of head nouns, and nature of modifiers. Results reveal a clear and consistent developmental increment in NP complexity from age 9 to 12, and particularly from age 16 years; written expository texts emerge as a favored site for use of syntactically complex constructions; and nominal elements play a more central role in the discursive syntax of Hebrew than English. Findings are discussed in terms of the interplay between psycholinguistic factors of cognitive processing constraints and the impact of increased literacy in later language development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-26
Number of pages24
JournalFirst Language
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2010


  • English
  • Genre
  • Hebrew
  • Later language development
  • Noun phrases
  • Speech and writing
  • Syntactic acquisition
  • Text production


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