Unpacking Reading Text Complexity: A Dynamic Language and Content Approach

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Haimei Sun


Reading texts may serve as a vital source of informational content and language knowledge for English language learners, which is known as the dual relevance of second language reading (Han & D’Angelo, 2009). Text complexity, however, mediates the two, determining to a great extent whether the dual outcome is attainable. Drawing on Complex Dynamic System Theory (CDST, de Bot, 2017), the present study conceives text complexity as residing primarily in the dynamic interplay between language and content complexity and their respective subsystems. To examine the viability of this conceptualization, this study analyzed language complexity and content complexity of authentic science texts sampled from high school and college textbooks on four different subjects. Results show that college texts in general exhibited greater language and content complexity than high school texts, especially in terms of sentence length and the use of complex nominals. Aside from this emerging pattern, variability characterized the magnitude of difference in complexity and the manner in which the texts differed. Overall, the findings from this study attest to the mutually reciprocal dynamics of language complexity and content complexity embedded within authentic texts.

Article Details

text complexity, CDST, readability