THE IMPACT OF COMPLEX PHRASAL CONSTRUCTIONS ON THE LENGTH OF LINGUISTIC UNITS IN ACADEMIC JOURNAL ARTICLES
Back to Page
Yue Li, Yuan Gao
academic journal articles, length of linguistic units, length of phrases, Menzerath-Altmann Law
Synergetic linguistics, which views human language as a complex adaptive system, attempts to model language with several linguistic laws. Among them, the Menzerath-Altmann Law (henceforth the MAL), stating that “the bigger the language construct, the smaller its immediate constituents”, has received much attention and has been testified validity across many registers. Abundant studies show that academic writings tend to exhibit a greater fitting result than conversations or other written registers at the clausal level. However, in academic writings, much of the meaning is condensed into phrases instead of being expressed clausally. Phrasal noun modifiers, including nouns, adjectives, prepositional phrases and appositive noun phrases, show prominence in academic writings compared to other registers such as fiction and drama. Therefore, whether the MAL still holds true at the phrasal level in academic writings is worthy of investigation. The current study endeavors to examine the MAL at the phrasal level by investigating the relation between the clause length and the phrase length in English academic journal articles. Our findings indicate that the correlation between the length of English clauses (measured in the number of phrases) and their constituting phrase length (measured in the number of words) fits the MAL, that is, the longer the clause, the shorter the phrase. This study broadens the scope of the MAL at the phrasal level and consolidates the idea that even though academic writings tend to adopt lengthy-phrase constructions to construct complexity, the deeper syntactic structure of the text still follows the general mechanism that controls the relation between adjacent language units.