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Marilyn A.

Nippold
Linda J. Hesketh
Jill K. Duthie
Tracy C. Mansfield
University of Oregon, Eugene
Conversational Versus Expository
Discourse: A Study of Syntactic
Development in Children,
Adolescents, and Adults
In this cross-sectional investigation, syntactic development was compared in
conversational versus expository discourse in 120 typically developing children,
adolescents, and adults, age 7 to 49 years. Each participant was asked to
discuss common topics such as school, family, and friends to elicit conversational
discourse and to explain the rules and strategies of a favorite game or sport to elicit
expository discourse. The results showed greater syntactic complexity in expository
discourse than in conversational for all age groups, supporting the view that
complex thought is driving the development of complex language. For both genres,
growth in syntax continued throughout childhood and adolescence and into early
adulthood (age 20–29 years) and remained stable into middle age (age 40–49
years). The 2 best indicators of growth were mean length of T-unit and relative
clause production, both of which showed age-related increases into early
adulthood. Another variable that was sensitive to growth was the total number of
T-units produced, a measure of language output. In general, older speakers talked
more than younger ones regardless of genre. Despite the statistically significant
group effects, there were wide individual differences. For example, in the expository
genre, some of the younger children used rather elaborate syntax whereas some
of the older adults spoke quite simply. Thus, it appears that individual variability can
exist at all points along the age continuum, despite the trend toward greater
syntactic complexity as a function of increasing chronological age.
KEY WORDS: expository discourse, conversation, syntax development, children,
adolescents, adults
L
ater language development is characterized by growth in the abil-
ity to communicate in flexible ways for diverse purposes (Ravid
& Tolchinsky, 2002). This includes being able to use different dis-
course genres, depending on the situation. One important genre is expository
discourse, the use of language to convey information (Bliss, 2002). Highly
valued in academic settings, this occurs, for example, when a high school
student explainsthepurpose, steps, andoutcomeof achemistryexperiment or
instructs a group of peers inthe use of a telescope for anastronomy meeting.
This contrasts with conversational discourse, a more interactive and less
formal genre (Crystal, 2002). Highly valued in social settings, conver-
sation occurs when a group of high school friends discuss the latest
fashions, movies, or CDs, exchanging opinions as well as sharing
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol. 48 1048–1064 October 2005 AAmerican Speech-Language-Hearing Association 1048
1092-4388/05/4805-1048
Cheryl Scott served as guest associate editor on this article.
information. Both genres require speakers to tap into
their cognitive and linguistic resources as they com-
municate their ideas in a clear and organized fashion.
However, expository discourse, with its emphasis on
speaking in a precise, monologic fashion (Berman &
Verhoeven, 2002), may heighten these demands, pos-
sibly resulting in greater linguistic complexity. In any
case, the ability to communicate in both genres—by
considering the setting, purpose, and needs of the lis-
tener and readily adjusting to the situation—is a mark
of speaker competence.
We designed the present study to compare the
linguistic complexity of conversational versus exposi-
tory discourse in children, adolescents, and adults and
to identify broad developmental patterns. A primary
contributor to linguistic complexity is the speaker’s
use of syntax, the structural foundation of sentences
(Crystal, 1996). Although little is known about the
development of syntax in expository discourse, much
has been learned about its development in conversa-
tion through longitudinal (e.g., Brown, 1973; Loban,
1976) and cross-sectional (e.g., Leadholm & Miller,
1992; Miller, 1981; Paul, 1981) research. For exam-
ple, Miller (1981) has shown that by age 5, most chil-
dren are conversing in complex sentences, have a mean
utterance length of at least 6.0 morphemes, and make
few grammatical errors. Despite the impressive attain-
ments of a typical 5-year-old child, syntactic develop-
ment in conversation continues well into adolescence,
albeit at a more gradual pace than that which occurred
previously (Berman, 2004; Loban, 1976; Nippold, 1998).
As Bates (2003) explained, beyond the preschool years,
speakers are ‘‘becoming more fluent and efficient in the
process by which words and grammatical constructions
are accessed in real time, and [are] learning how to use
the grammar to create larger discourse units (e.g.,
writing essays, telling stories, participating in a long
and complex conversation)’’ (p. 15). Consistent with
this perspective, Loban (1976) argued that cognitive
development and intellectual stimulation are ‘‘far more
likely to accelerate syntactic growth than grammar
knowledge’’ (p. 36) in older children and adolescents.
Two key markers of later syntactic development
include sentence length and clausal density (Nippold,
1993; Scott & Stokes, 1995). Beyond the preschool
years, sentence length is often measured with the
terminable unit, or T-unit (Scott, 1988). Hunt (1970)
defined the T-unit as ‘‘one main clause plus any sub-
ordinate clause or nonclausal structure that is at-
tached to or embedded in it’’ (p. 4; for examples, see
Appendix A). Examining written language develop-
ment in school-age children and adolescents, Hunt
reported that the mean number of words per T-unit
was a more sensitive index of syntactic growth during
this period than other measures, such as the number of
words per clause or the number of clauses per T-unit.
In some studies, the communication unit (C-unit) has
been used to measure growth in syntax instead of the
T-unit. These two units are identical with the excep-
tion that the C-unit includes responses that lack an
independent clause when answering questions (Loban,
1976; for examples, see Appendix A).
Using the C-unit, Loban (1976) investigated syn-
tactic development in the context of conversational
discourse in 211 children who were followed longi-
tudinally from kindergarten through the 12th grade.
Every year, each child participated in a conversation
with an adult who recorded the child’s language sam-
ple for detailed analyses. The results showed that mean
C-unit length increased as the children aged but at a
very slow rate. In a subgroup of students who repre-
sented a range of language proficiency levels, includ-
ing high, low, and average (‘‘Random Group,’’ n = 35),
Loban reported the following mean C-unit lengths at
Grades 3, 5, 8, and 11, respectively: 7.62, 8.82, 10.71,
and 11.17 (p. 27). Despite its slow progression, mean
C-unit or T-unit length is considered to be an impor-
tant marker of later syntactic development (Hunt,
1970; Loban, 1976; Nippold, 1993; Scott, 1988; Scott
& Stokes, 1995; Scott & Windsor, 2000).
Another marker of later syntactic development is
clausal density, defined as ‘‘the average number of clauses
(main and subordinate) per T-unit’’ (Scott, 1988, p. 58).
Also called the subordination index, it is measured by
summing the total number of clauses (independent +
subordinate) and dividing by the total number of T-units
or C-units produced in a language sample. This marker
also increases gradually during the school-age and
adolescent years. Analyzing data from Loban’s (1976)
longitudinal study, Scott (1988) reported the following
mean subordination indexes for Grades 3, 5, 8, and 11,
respectively: 1.22, 1.29, 1.39, and 1.52 (p. 59).
The appropriate use of subordination can enhance
the efficiency with which ideas are expressed. For
example, instead of producing a monotonous string of
independent clauses (e.g., ‘‘I went to California. I saw a
movie. It was a new movie. Jeremy had recommended
it’’), a competent speaker can combine them into one
complex sentence that is rich in information yet clear
in meaning (e.g., ‘‘When I went to California, I saw the
new movie that Jeremy had recommended’’). By age 5,
typically developing children are able to use all types
of subordinate clauses in conversation (Paul, 1981),
including relative, adverbial, and nominal (for exam-
ples, see Appendix A). However, additional refine-
ments continue to occur beyond the preschool years.
In Loban’s (1976) longitudinal study, all three types
of subordinate clauses were used more frequently as
the students grew older, thereby contributing to the
Nippold et al.: Conversational Versus Expository Discourse 1049
increases observed in mean C-unit length and clausal
density through late adolescence.
To reiterate, much has been learned about syntac-
tic development in conversation, a topic that has been
studied for many years (e.g., Leadholm & Miller, 1992;
Loban, 1976; Miller, 1981; Scott, 1988). In contrast,
studies of expository discourse are just beginning to
emerge.
Berman and Verhoeven (2002) recently conducted
a cross-linguistic investigation that involved a com-
parison of narrative and expository discourse in seven
different languages (Dutch, English, French, Hebrew,
Icelandic, Spanish, and Swedish). Twenty native
speakers of each language from four different age
groups (9–10 years, 12–13 years, 16–17 years, and
20–30 years) participated, for a total of 80 speakers
per country. Each participant viewed a short film
that depicted an interpersonal conflict. Afterwards,
speakers were asked to tell a story about a similar
situation they had experienced to elicit narrative dis-
course or to describe and comment on the problem
that was depicted in the film to elicit expository
discourse. Mean length of T-unit was used to measure
syntactic complexity of the samples. Across languages,
age-related increases in T-unit length occurred in both
genres, and complexity tended to be greater in exposi-
tory than in narrative discourse. Males and females
did not differ in their performance.
Verhoeven et al. (2002) conducted additional anal-
yses of these data, comparing the youngest children
(9–10 years) to the adults (20–30 years). Verhoeven
et al. found that all types of subordinate clauses—
relative, adverbial, and nominal—occurred more often
in expository discourse than in narrative discourse for
both age groups, across languages. They also found
that the use of subordinate clauses showed an age-
related increase in both genres. Relative clause pro-
duction was particularly sensitive to the effects of age
and genre: Adults used this type of clause far more
often than did children, and both groups used them
more frequently in expository discourse.
Similarly, Scott and Windsor (2000) elicited spoken
narrative and expository samples from American
English-speaking children who were 8 and 11 years
old (n = 20 per group). Two films were used to elicit the
samples, one a story about a young boy (narrative) and
the other a description of plant and animal life in the
desert (expository). Immediately after viewing a film,
the child was asked to provide an oral summary of it.
The results indicated that syntactic complexity, which
was based on mean length of T-unit, was greater in
expository than in narrative discourse for both age
groups, findings that were consistent with Berman and
Verhoeven’s (2002) findings.
In the present investigation, we compared the
syntactic complexity of expository and conversational
discourse from a developmental perspective, a topic
that had not been addressed previously. Children,
adolescents, and adults representing a wide range of
ages (7–49 years) participated in the study. Two types
of language samples, conversational and expository,
were elicited from each speaker. The samples were
examined for syntactic complexity using measures that
have been used successfully in past research to identify
developmental and cross-genre differences (i.e., sen-
tence length and production of subordinate clauses;
e.g., Berman & Verhoeven, 2002; Hunt, 1970; Loban,
1976; Scott & Windsor, 2000; Verhoeven et al., 2002).
The conversational samples were similar to what
speech-language pathologists typically elicit in their
assessment of clients, encouraging discussion of com-
mon topics such as school or work, family, friends, and
pets. In contrast, the expository samples requested
the participants to explain the rules and strategies of
their favorite game or sport, a task developed for the
present study. As Scott (1994) explained, there are many
varieties of expository discourse (e.g., descriptive,
procedural, causal, sequential, contrastive, compara-
tive) but the defining feature of this genre is that the
speaker attempts to convey information (Bliss, 2002).
Infinitely varied, this could include, for example, a
lecture on the differences between the composers Bach
and Mozart; a detailed account of how to operate a
catamaran, bake a cake, or repair a light switch; or a
summary of the best bicycling routes in Europe.
Obviously, the speaker must have knowledge of the
topic and be able to express that information. In past
research, expository discourse samples were elicited
using films depicting interpersonal conflicts (Berman
& Verhoeven, 2002) or life in the desert (Scott &
Windsor, 2000), which the participants were asked to
view and then to summarize. In pilot work, we
attempted to use a conflict task similar to that of
Berman and Verhoeven but found that it was too
difficult for our youngest participants (age 7–8 years).
Therefore, an alternative procedure, the ‘‘favorite
game or sport task,’’ was used to ensure that all par-
ticipants would be speaking from their own knowl-
edge base. Because games and sports are popular with
people of all ages in the United States, we expected
that even the youngest children would have at least
one activity that they could describe. We also believed
that this procedure might yield a more realistic mea-
sure of participants’ skill with expository discourse
because it pertains to something that they have
experienced in their own lives.
As discussed above, past research has demon-
strated that syntactic complexity in conversational dis-
course gradually improves during the school-age and
1050 Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol. 48 1048–1064 October 2005
adolescent years and that key markers of growth
include increases in sentence length and clausal den-
sity, particularly in the use of relative, adverbial, and
nominal clauses (Loban, 1976; Scott, 1988; Scott &
Stokes, 1995). We predicted that similar age-related
changes would be evident in the expository genre but
that syntactic complexity would be greater in exposi-
tory than in conversational discourse because of the
increased communicative demands the former seems to
place on the speaker. We also predicted that expository
discourse would have a lengthy developmental time
course, perhaps even longer than that for conversa-
tional discourse. For this reason, it was important to
examine development beyond adolescence and well
into adulthood. Little is known about language develop-
ment in adults, because this has not been widely
investigated. However, Hunt (1970) reported that
mean length of the T-unit continued to increase beyond
adolescence and into early adulthood in written
language, and Berman and Verhoeven (2002) reported
similar findings with respect to spoken language.
However, no studies of syntactic development have
included middle-aged adults. In the present study, two
groups of adults—one younger (age 20–29 years) and
one older (40–49 years)—were included. The findings
were expected to contribute to the knowledge base in
later language development, a topic of expanding in-
ternational interest (Berman, 2004).
The present study also represents an initial
attempt to build a normative database in expository
discourse, one that could be used by speech-language
pathologists in their work with school-age children and
adolescents suspected of having language disorders.
When evaluating these young people, speech-language
pathologists frequently administer standardized lan-
guage tests and engage the students in conversation
for the purpose of examining oral language develop-
ment (Evans & Miller, 1999). Often, the conversational
sample will be transcribed and analyzed using a
computer program such as Systematic Analysis of
Language Transcripts (SALT; Miller & Chapman,
2003), which calculates key syntactic, lexical, and
morphological variables, including mean utterance
length, total number of words and utterances pro-
duced, and the use of bound morphemes. A reference
database is available through SALT for comparing a
speaker’s conversational performance with that of age-
matched, typically developing peers.
Although this database can be helpful in docu-
menting oral language deficits and planning interven-
tion, there are cases where school-age children and
adolescents perform adequately on standardized lan-
guage tests and exhibit normal conversational skills,
yet demonstrate difficulties with more complex speak-
ing tasks in natural settings (Nippold & Schwarz,
1996; Scott & Stokes, 1995). For example, academic
tasks, such as explaining the solution to a physics
problem or the steps involved in proving a theorem,
can be expected to challenge a speaker’s linguistic com-
petence more fully than conversation about simpler
topics that have been discussed many times before.
Information on how a child or adolescent performs in
this arena would be helpful in identifying subtle yet
troublesome difficulties in using a type of discourse
that is highly valued in school. Gillam, Pena, and
Miller (1999) discussed the role of expository discourse
as a language skill that contributes to academic
success. As such, they recommended that speech-
language pathologists assess the syntactic complexity
of expository discourse in upper elementary and high
school students. However, in the absence of a norma-
tive database, it is impossible to know what levels of
complexity are reasonable to expect at different ages.
In summary, in the present study we addressed
the following questions:
1. How does syntactic development differ in conver-
sational versus expository discourse?
2. What markers of syntactic growth exist for con-
versational versus expository discourse?
3. What changes occur in syntactic development
during early and middle adulthood?
4. What levels of performance can be expected of
children, adolescents, and adults?
Method
Participants
A total of 120 individuals participated in this
investigation, including two groups of children, two
groups of adolescents, and two groups of adults. With
20 participants in each group, the mean ages (and
ranges) were as follows (in years;months): 8;1 (7;8–
8;7), 11;4 (10;9–11;8), 13;9 (13;1–14;4), 17;3 (16;9–
17;11), 25;6 (20;8–28;5), and 44;8 (40;8–49;9). The
children and adolescents were public school students
who were attending an elementary school (Grade 2 or
5), middle school (Grade 8), or high school (Grade 11)
located in a low- to lower middle–income neighborhood
in western Oregon. According to their teachers, all stu-
dents were considered to be typical achievers who were
free of deficits in language, learning, and cognition. All
were of the appropriate age for their grade, and none
were receiving special educationservices. The adults were
residents of western Oregon who were individually re-
cruited by the graduate students who conducted the in-
terviews. Often, the adults were acquaintances of the
students or were referred to them by friends or relatives,
Nippold et al.: Conversational Versus Expository Discourse 1051
but no adult participants were students or professionals
in speech-language pathology or audiology. All adults
reported that they had graduated from high school,
and 37 out of 40 (93%) had attended at least 1 year of
college or university. On average, the adults had com-
pleted 3.5 years (range = 0–6.0 years) of formal education
beyond high school. Most of the adults in their 20s were
still attending college or university, and many were
employed (e.g., cook, bartender, secretary, salesperson).
Only a few of the adults in their 40s were students,
and most were employed (e.g., teacher, technician, man-
ager, electrician). Onthe basis of these factors, the adults
appeared to represent lower middle– to middle-income
backgrounds.
All participants spoke English as their native
language. Information concerning race and ethnicity
was unavailable. Given that the study was not de-
signed to examine differences in the performance of
males versus females, no attempts were made to re-
cruit equal numbers of both sexes. For each age group,
the ratio of males to females was as follows: age 8 =
1:0.67, age 11 = 1:1.50, age 13 = 1:1.22, age 17 = 1:3.0,
age 25 = 1:1, and age 44 = 1:1.86. The entire sample
of 120 participants included 51 males (43%) and 69
females (57%), a ratio of 1:1.35.
Procedure
Graduate students majoring in communication
disorders and sciences individually interviewed all
participants. In total, 53 graduate students (2 men,
51 women) conducted the interviews as part of a course
requirement. Each graduate student completed be-
tween one and three interviews with a child, adoles-
cent, or adult. All interviewers were carefully trained
by the investigators to maintain confidentiality, ad-
here to the examination protocol, and transcribe the
language samples carefully. All testing took place in a
quiet area, free of distractions. The children and ado-
lescents were tested at their schools, whereas the adults
were tested at either the university speech, language,
and hearing clinic; their workplace; or a residence.
Each session began with a brief introduction to
explain the procedures, establish rapport, and secure
the participant’s written agreement to take part in
the study. Next, a sample of conversational discourse
was elicited, which required about 5 to 8 min to
complete. The interviewer began by asking the par-
ticipant to talk about common topics such as school
or work activities, family members, friends, and pets.
When a participant showed interest in a topic, the
interviewer asked questions or made positive com-
ments to stimulate additional discussion. The conver-
sations continued until the participant had finished
talking and appeared ready to move to the next
activity. Then, the interviewer presented the favorite
game or sport task, which was designed to elicit a
sample of expository discourse. This also required
about 5 to 8 min and asked the participant to select a
favorite game or sport and to discuss it in detail. A
series of prompts were used to ensure that all speakers
addressed the same issues and thought about their
topics carefully. To elicit the sample, the interviewer
read the following script aloud:
I am hoping to learn what people of different ages
know about certain topics. There are no penalties
for incorrect answers.
A. What is your favorite game or sport?
B. Why is [e.g., chess] your favorite game?
C. I’m not too familiar with the game of [chess],
so I would like you to tell me all about it. For
example, tell me what the goals are, and how
many people may play a game. Also, tell me
about the rules that players need to follow.
Tell me everything you can think of about the
game of [chess] so that someone who has never
played before will know how to play.
D. Now I would like you to tell me what a player
should do in order to win the game of (chess).
In other words, what are some key strategies
that every good player should know?
Following each prompt, the interviewer paused,
displayed interest in the response, and allowed the
speaker as much time as necessary to complete the
response. If a speaker failed to address a question or
requested that one be repeated, the interviewer posed
the question again. All discourse samples were audio-
recorded using a standard, portable cassette player.
Data Transcription and Analysis
Each conversational and expository sample was
transcribed by the same graduate student who had
conducted the interview. The samples were broken
into T-units, defined as an independent clause with
any accompanying subordinate (dependent) clauses
(Hunt, 1970). Any fragments (incomplete T-units) or
mazes were placed within parentheses and ignored for
purposes of the present study. Following this, one of
the investigators listened to each audiotape a second
time to verify the accuracy and completeness of the
transcriptions, and made any necessary corrections.
Then, a second investigator entered the samples into
the SALT (Miller & Chapman, 2003) computer program
and individually coded the samples so that SALT
would count all independent clauses and three types
of subordinate clauses: relative (RC), adverbial (AVC),
and nominal (NOM). In coding the different types of
1052 Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol. 48 1048–1064 October 2005
clauses, the guidelines shown in Appendix A were used.
To simplify the coding process, only finite clauses
(both independent and subordinate) were identified.
As defined by Quirk and Greenbaum (1973), a finite
clause ‘‘always contains a subject as well as a predi-
cate’’ (p. 310). Thus, in the present study, all nonfinite
clauses (those that did not contain a subject) were
ignored. After coding a sample, the same investigator
double-checked all codes and made any necessary cor-
rections. A third investigator performed a final check
of all codes and flagged any disagreements with the
initial codings. For each type of clause, the percent-
age of disagreement between the two investigators
was as follows: independent clauses = 1%; RCs = 1%;
AVCs= 1%; and NOMs = 6%. All disagreements were
resolved through discussion so that 100% agreement
was attained for all clause types. In addition to the
independent and subordinate clauses, SALT counted
the total number of T-units and calculated the mean
length of T-unit in words for each sample. The data
then were entered into the SAS system (SAS Institute,
2001), which determined the percentage of T-units
that contained each type of subordinate clause. Percent-
ages rather than raw numbers were used to control
for differences in sample length. SAS also determined
the subordination index, a measure of clausal den-
sity. This consisted of the total number of clauses
(independent + RC + AVC + NOM) divided by the to-
tal number of T-units in a sample (Scott, 1988). Again,
in determining the total number of clauses, only fi-
nite clauses were counted (see Appendix A).
Results
Both tasks were effective in eliciting discourse
from all age groups. Regarding the favorite game or
sport task, a wide range of activities was discussed,
including games such as poker, chess, and Clue, and
sports such as basketball, football, baseball, track and
field, cross-country running, swimming, wrestling,
hockey, tennis, soccer, golf, and rowing. For each of
the six age groups, the following variables are reported
in Tables 1 and 2, respectively, for conversational and
expository discourse: total number of T-units, mean
length of T-unit in words, percentage of T-units con-
taining RCs, percentage of T-units containing AVCs,
percentage of T-units containing NOMs, and clausal
Table 1. Measures of language production for conversational discourse (n = 20 per group).
Measure Age 8 Age 11 Age 13 Age 17 Age 25 Age 44
Total T-units
M 33.95 25.45 38.25 61.50 50.80 60.10
SD 13.31 17.20 20.98 31.54 23.88 34.45
Range 9–62 4–68 6–84 19–140 6–96 17–151
Mean length of T-unit
M 6.74 7.31 6.88 8.33 9.86 9.56
SD 0.86 1.62 0.93 1.27 2.09 2.01
Range 4.42–8.44 3.67–10.56 5.56–8.52 5.83–10.32 6.00–13.44 6.88–15.16
Relative clause use
a
M 3.42 5.00 4.43 8.29 10.20 8.68
SD 3.61 6.41 3.78 4.64 8.12 8.22
Range 0–11.11 0–22.22 0–12.12 0–20.93 0–22.92 0–36.84
Adverbial clause use
a
M 7.28 10.84 5.50 10.99 10.43 12.04
SD 4.67 9.37 4.77 4.63 7.73 6.19
Range 0–16.67 0–33.33 0–16.98 0–18.60 0–22.58 0–25.00
Nominal clause use
a
M 7.04 9.42 6.58 11.05 18.13 17.71
SD 7.00 10.86 6.03 6.01 11.99 10.14
Range 0–23.33 0–43.75 0–20.75 0–22.73 0–53.16 5.56–38.33
Clausal density
M 1.18 1.25 1.17 1.30 1.39 1.38
SD 0.09 0.22 0.09 0.11 0.21 0.19
Range 1.00–1.37 1.00–1.75 1–1.42 1.08–1.56 1.08–1.82 1.12–1.77
a
Reported as percentage of T-units per sample.
Nippold et al.: Conversational Versus Expository Discourse 1053
density. To assist the reader in visualizing these data,
they are also presented in Figures 1 through 6.
To examine the effects of age and discourse genre,
a repeated measures analysis of variance was per-
formed on each variable. For total number of T-units
and mean length of T-unit in words, raw scores served
as the dependent measure; however, for each type of
subordinate clause, raw percentage scores served as
the dependent measure. Bonferroni corrections were
used for multiple comparisons (adjusted a = .008). Ef-
fect sizes were computed using the eta coefficient
(h; Meline & Schmitt, 1997) and were interpreted as
Table 2. Measures of language production for expository discourse (n = 20 per group).
Measure Age 8 Age 11 Age 13 Age 17 Age 25 Age 44
Total T-units
M 33.05 35.30 36.15 44.00 51.55 60.55
SD 25.36 17.40 19.12 27.28 31.95 23.30
Range 10–97 16–77 9–88 12–113 9–128 11–109
Mean length of T-unit
M 8.59 9.29 8.68 10.59 11.04 11.46
SD 1.89 0.90 1.64 1.60 1.39 1.11
Range 6.07–13.62 8.04–12.05 6.53–14.05 7.58–13.65 8.21–13.24 10.08–15.17
Relative clause use
a
M 6.50 6.14 5.20 11.27 11.60 14.44
SD 6.91 4.84 5.10 6.29 6.20 8.28
Range 0–21.43 0–19.61 0–18.18 3.70–30.43 0–22.97 0–29.55
Adverbial clause use
a
M 25.62 22.61 23.50 27.22 22.51 25.60
SD 19.49 10.58 13.97 18.12 9.80 10.77
Range 0–76.19 6.25–41.18 3.33–54.55 4.35–79.49 7.59–47.06 10.20–48.94
Nominal clause use
a
M 10.24 16.67 13.11 17.85 19.79 19.06
SD 8.78 7.68 12.37 17.62 9.89 6.99
Range 0–33.33 2.70–33.33 0–44.44 3.85–83.33 0–39.36 8.77–33.03
Clausal density
M 1.42 1.45 1.42 1.56 1.54 1.59
SD 0.23 0.16 0.20 0.28 0.15 0.14
Range 1.00–1.90 1.26–1.75 1.12–2.05 1.24–2.33 1.24–1.89 1.30–1.89
a
Reported as percentage of T-units per sample.
Figure 1. Language output (total T-units produced) for
conversational and expository discourse for each age group.
Figure 2. Mean length of T-unit (in words) for conversational and
expository discourse for each age group.
1054 Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol. 48 1048–1064 October 2005
follows: small = .10–.23, medium = .24–.36, and large =
.37–.71 (Cohen, 1969, p. 276). When differences were
statistically significant, Tukey’s studentized range
(honestly significant difference) test ( p = .05) was used
to determine where they occurred.
For total number of T-units, a statistically signifi-
cant main effect was obtained for group, F(5, 114) =
7.80, p G .0001, h = .50, but not for genre, F(1, 114) =
0.32, p > .05, h = .05. The effect size for group was
large. The interaction between group and genre was
not statistically significant, F(5, 114) = 1.72, p > .05,
h = .26. Tukey tests indicated that for conversation,
the 44-year-old adults outperformed the 11- and 8-year-
old children, the 25-year-old adults outperformed
the 11-year-old children, and the 17-year-old adoles-
cents outperformed the 13-, 11-, and 8-year-old chil-
dren. For explanation (i.e., expository discourse), the
44-year-old adults outperformed the 13-, 11-, and
8-year-old children. Thus, the findings demonstrated
an age-related increase in language output for both
genres. Fortunately, the two types of discourse sam-
ples did not differ in total number of T-units produced
for any group, making it reasonable to compare the
two genres on key syntactic variables.
For mean length of T-unit, statistically significant
main effects were obtained for group, F(5, 114) = 22.55,
p G .0001, h = .71, and genre, F(1, 114) = 129.35, p G
.0001, h = .73. The effect size for group and genre was
large. The interaction between group and genre was
not statistically significant, F(5, 114) = 0.83, p > .05,
h = .19. Tukey tests indicated that for conversation, the
44- and 25-year-old adults outperformed the 13-, 11-,
and 8-year-old children; the 25-year-old adults out-
performed the 17-year-old adolescents; and the 17-year-
old adolescents outperformed the 13- and 8-year-old
children. For explanation, the 44- and 25-year-old adults
outperformed the 13-, 11-, and 8-year-old children,
and the 17-year-old adolescents outperformed the 13-
and 8-year-old children. Thus, mean length of T-unit
steadily increased into adulthood in both genres and
was greater in explanation than in conversation
Figure 3. Relative clause use for conversational and expository
discourse for each age group.
Figure 4. Adverbial clause use for conversational and expository
discourse for each age group.
Figure 5. Nominal clause use for conversational and expository
discourse for each age group.
Figure 6. Clausal density for conversational and expository
discourse for each age group.
Nippold et al.: Conversational Versus Expository Discourse 1055
for all groups. As shown in Figure 2, the growth
rate for mean T-unit length was nearly identical in
both genres.
For relative clauses, statistically significant main
effects were obtained for group, F(5, 114) = 9.00, p G
.0001, h = .53, and genre, F(1, 114) = 11.28, p = .0011,
h = .30. The effect size was large for group and medium
for genre. The interaction between group and genre
was not statistically significant, F(5, 114) = 1.02, p >
.05, h = .21. Tukey tests indicated that for conversa-
tion, the 25-year-old adults outperformed the 13- and
8-year-old children. For explanation, the 44- and
25-year-old adults outperformed the 13-year-old chil-
dren. Thus, in addition to an age-related increase in
RC production, all groups showed greater use in ex-
planation than in conversation.
For AVCs, a statistically significant main effect
was obtained for genre, F(1, 114) = 120.69, p G .0001,
h = .72, but not for group, F(5, 114) = 0.87, p > .05, h =
.19. The effect size for genre was large. The interaction
between group and genre was not statistically signifi-
cant, F(5, 114) = 0.76, p > .05, h = .18. For every group,
AVCs were used more often in explanation than in con-
versation, but there were no age-related increases in use.
For NOMs, a statistically significant main effect
was obtained for group, F(5, 114) = 6.57, p G .0001, h =
.47, and genre, F(1, 114) = 12.62, p = .0006, h = .32. The
effect size was large for group and medium for genre.
The interaction between group and genre was not
statistically significant, F(5, 114) = 0.77, p > .05,
h = .18. Tukey tests indicated that for conversation,
the 44- and 25-year-old adults outperformed the
13-, 11-, and 8-year-old children; however, for explana-
tion, the groups did not differ. The failure to find sig-
nificant group differences for explanation may be due
to the conservative nature of the Tukey test, which
tightly guards against Type I error (Winer, 1971).
Thus, the findings indicated an age-related increase
in NOM production only in conversation and that all
groups used NOMs more often in explanation.
For clausal density, a statistically significant main
effect was obtained for group, F(5, 114) = 7.78, p G
.0001, h = .50, and genre, F(1, 114) = 100.07, p G .0001,
h = .68. The effect size was large for both group and
genre. The interaction between group and genre was
not statistically significant, F(5, 114) = 0.60, p > .05, h =
.16. Nevertheless, Tukey tests indicated that for
conversation, the 44- and 25-year-old adults outper-
formed the 13- and 8-year-old children, but for ex-
planation, the groups did not differ. Again, this result
may stem from the conservative nature of the Tukey
test (Winer, 1971). Thus, although clausal density
showed an age-related increase only in conversation,
it was greater in explanation than in conversation for
all groups.
Because mean length of T-unit has long been
regarded as a key marker of syntactic development,
and one that reflects the use of subordination (Hunt,
1970), we decided it was important to examine the
relationship of T-unit length to the different types of
subordinate clauses that were examined in this study.
For each genre, Pearson product–moment correlation
coefficients were calculated for each age group sepa-
rately, using each participant’s mean length of T-unit
and raw percentage score on each type of subordinate
clause and the clausal density score. As shown in Table 3,
many of the coefficients were statistically significant,
particularly for AVC production and for clausal
density. This indicates that mean length of T-unit
is a good predictor of the use of subordination in both
conversational and expository discourse genres.
Given the usefulness of the T-unit as a general
index of syntactic proficiency, independent t tests
comparing the performance of males and females were
conducted for both genres. The results were not sta-
tistically significant for either genre: conversation,
t(118) = –0.28, p = .7795, and explanation, t(118) =
–0.57, p = .5727. These findings are consistent with past
research in expository discourse (Berman & Verhoeven,
2002) that has indicated no gender differences.
Table 3. Pearson product–moment correlation coefficients between mean length of T-unit and each of the clausal variables
for conversational (Con) and expository (Exp) discourses (n = 20 per group).
Age 8 Age 11 Age 13 Age 17 Age 25 Age 44
Con Exp Con Exp Con Exp Con Exp Con Exp Con Exp
Mean length of T-unit 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 1.00
Relative clause use .46* .41 .48* .08 .21 .57** .61** .14 .67** .26 .81**** .18
Adverbial clause use .59** .79**** .72*** .40 .40 .56** .85**** .58** .65** .20 .36 .27
Nominal clause use .02 .07 .60** .56** .24 .47* .10 .46* .45* –.07 .49* .36
Clausal density .48* .83**** .75**** .57** .49* .83**** .67** .69*** .75*** .19 .75*** .49*
*p G .05. **p G .01. ***p G .001. ****p G .0001.
1056 Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol. 48 1048–1064 October 2005
Finally, it is enlightening to examine what the
participants actually said when speaking in the con-
versational and expository genres. Appendix B con-
tains portions of transcripts recorded from speakers
representing each of the six age groups. Each type of
clause is indicated immediately after each main verb.
Mean length of T-unit obtained by the speaker, on the
basis of the complete sample, is shown. Differences in
utterance length and syntactic complexity can be ob-
served between genres and, to a lesser degree, across
age groups. It is important to note that these exam-
ples illustrate how the favorite game or sport task
appears to stimulate the speakers to use a level of
syntactic complexity that is not apparent from their
conversational discourse.
Discussion
The purpose of this cross-sectional study was
to examine syntactic development in conversational
and expository discourse over a wide age range (7–
49 years). The main objective was to identify and com-
pare key markers of syntactic growth across participant
ages and discourse genres and to determine if growth
continued beyond adolescence and into early and
middle adulthood. We expected that syntactic com-
plexity would be greater in expository than in con-
versational discourse but that growth would be
evident in both genres.
The findings indicated that for both genres, syntax
continued to develop beyond adolescence and into early
adulthood (20–29 years) and remained stable into
middle age (40–49 years). Although we predicted that
expository discourse might undergo a longer develop-
mental time course than conversational discourse,
there was no evidence for continued growth beyond
early adulthood in either genre. The two best indica-
tors of growth were mean length of T-unit and RC
production. In contrast to the other measures (i.e., the
use of AVCs, NOMs, and clausal density), these two
measures showed age-related increases into adulthood
in both genres, and the effect sizes for group were
large. Berman and Verhoeven (2002) and Verhoeven
et al. (2002) also reported that mean length of T-unit
and RC production were particularly sensitive to de-
velopmental gains in expository discourse in their
cross-linguistic study. In the present study, another
variable that was sensitive to age-related growth was
the total number of T-units produced, a measure of
language output. In general, older speakers talked
more than younger ones regardless of genre. NOM
production also increased in relation to chronological
age but in conversational discourse only.
It was interesting that AVCs, used by all six
groups more frequently in explanation than in con-
versation, did not show any age-related increases. It is
notable that even the youngest children in the study
used this type of clause as often as the adults, re-
gardless of genre. Similarly, the youngest group used
NOMs as often as the adults when speaking in the
expository genre. Thus, the expository discourse task
appeared to stimulate even the youngest children to
employ these types of clauses when explaining their
favorite game or sport.
Clausal density, recognized as a key marker of
syntactic development in conversation (Scott, 1988;
Scott & Stokes, 1995), also proved sensitive to growth,
but not in expository discourse. Although unexpected,
this finding seems to have resulted from the fact that
all six age groups used all three types of subordinate
clauses to a greater extent in expository than in
conversational discourse. Thus, it cannot be assumed
that key markers of syntactic development are identi-
cal for both genres. It is important that this lack of
sensitivity to growth in the expository genre not be
interpreted as a negative result. On the contrary, it is
positive in showing that even young, school-age
children are able to use subordination as frequently
as middle-aged adults, but young children require a
task that is cognitively challenging to reveal their
syntactic competence. It is possible that the favorite
game or sport task is especially effective in eliciting
subordinate clauses as speakers explain the special
conditions of their chosen activity (e.g., ‘‘If your
opponent hits the ball out of bounds, you get a point’’).
For this reason, it cannot be assumed that other types
of expository tasks would yield the same outcome. For
example, Verhoeven et al. (2002) reported an age-
related increase in the use of subordinate clauses when
10-year-old children and young adults were compared
in their descriptions of interpersonal conflicts. Thus,
we emphasize that the results of the present study
pertain to one type of expository discourse, explaining
the rules and strategies of a favorite game or sport. It is
possible that different results might be obtained with
other types of expository tasks (e.g., summarizing the
outcome of an election campaign; comparing and
contrasting two brands of candy, clothing, or soda;
explaining why babies cry). Hence, it will be important
in future research to examine syntactic development
by comparing different types of expository discourse
tasks.
As predicted, expository discourse elicited greater
syntactic complexity than conversational. For each of
the six age groups, performance in the expository
genre exceeded performance in the conversational
genre on each of the relevant variables: production of
Nippold et al.: Conversational Versus Expository Discourse 1057
all types of subordinate clauses (RC, AVC, NOM),
clausal density, and mean length of T-unit. Accord-
ingly, striking differences in syntactic complexity
between conversational and expository discourse can
be seen in the examples in Appendix B. Consider
Speaker 1, an 8-year-old boy. When talking about the
game of poker, he evidenced a sophisticated level of
conditional (if–if–then) reasoning where two related
circumstances, expressed as AVCs (‘‘If the other guy
decides to play a royal flush and you have a royal flush
with a pair of acesI’’), can result in a positive outcome
(‘‘Iyou’re gonna win’’). This level of complexity never
occurs in his conversational sample, where he talks
about dogs and his stepsisters. Similarly, Speaker 2, a
10-year-old girl, evidenced conditional reasoning,
expressed through multiple AVCs per T-unit, in
describing the game of chess (e.g., ‘‘If the bishop was
right here and the king was right here, that would be
check’’), structures that never occurred in the conver-
sation about her sister.
Additional examples of conditional reasoning
expressed by subordination are apparent in the expos-
itory samples of Speaker 5, a 26-year-old man who
talked about cross-country racing tactics (e.g., ‘‘When
you have a lot of corners in a race and you can turn a
corner and not be seen by your opponentI’’), and of
Speaker 6, a 40-year-old man who produced six AVCs
within one 60-word T-unit to describe a strategy for
winning a basketball game (e.g., ‘‘So if one team tried
to score a goalI’’). As with the 8- and 10-year-old
children, neither of these adults evidenced conditional
reasoning in their conversational samples, both of
which involved discussions about household pets.
NOM production also occurred more frequently in
expository discourse than in conversational discourse,
enabling speakers to elaborate on some fundamental
concepts of their game or sport. This can be seen, for
example, when Speaker 3, a 14-year-old boy who was
discussing baseball, distinguished a home run (‘‘And a
home run is when you hit it over the fence or you hit it
and you make it all the way around the bases without
stopping’’) from a grand slam (‘‘A grand slam is when
the bases are loaded and someone hits a home run and
everyone goes in’’). In contrast, his conversational sam-
ple gave no evidence of his ability to use these clauses.
It was impressive also when speakers were able to
use all three types of subordinate clauses in a single
T-unit, as when Speaker 4, a 17-year-old girl who was
explaining the shot put, described how to do a half spin
(‘‘And if you do a half spin, what you do isI’’). Re-
markably, this 60-word T-unit contained two NOMs,
five RCs, and one AVC.
These examples also illustrate how the use of
various types of subordinate clauses contributes to
increases in mean length of T-unit, a pattern that is
consistent with the correlation coefficients reported in
Table 3. Loban (1976) reported similar findings in
relation to conversational discourse during the school-
age and adolescent years. The present findings repli-
cate that pattern and extend it not only to expository
discourse but to adulthood as well. Hence, it is
interesting to observe how mean T-unit length is
markedly greater in expository discourse than in
conversational. This is most obvious for Speaker 3,
whose mean T-unit length was 6.26 words in conver-
sation but 9.96 in explanation, a difference of 3.70
words. Similar patterns occurred for the other speak-
ers, where the differences in words per T-unit were as
follows: Speaker 1 = 2.08, Speaker 2 = 1.39, Speaker
4 = 3.43, Speaker 5 = 3.1, and Speaker 6 = 2.80.
The results of the present study are consistent
with the views expressed by other investigators (e.g.,
Bates, 2003; Loban, 1976) that later syntactic develop-
ment is not primarily a matter of acquiring new
grammatical structures. Rather, it seems to be more
a process of learning how to use existing structures
with greater efficiency and dexterity to communicate
complex thoughts in a way that is clear and informa-
tive. The expository task provided evidence that even
the youngest children were capable of speaking in a
sophisticated manner, and many of them performed
quite well on this task. As a group, however, they were
not performing at an adult level in all respects. What
seems to change as a function of increasing chro-
nological age is knowledge of the topic at hand. In
general, younger speakers displayed less knowledge of
their favorite game or sport and had less to say about
it than older ones, giving the impression that com-
plex thought was driving the use of complex syntax. A
clear illustration of this pattern was observed when
an 8-year-old boy and a 40-year-old man (Speaker 6 in
Appendix B) were asked an identical question about
basketball by their respective interviewers: ‘‘Tell me
what a player should do in order to win the game of
basketball. In other words, what are some key strat-
egies that every good player should know?’’ The 8-year-
old’s entire response was as follows: ‘‘Well, how to win
is you have to score more points than the other team.
Mostly like all games [laughs].’’ In contrast, the adult
offered three different strategies to answer this ques-
tion and explained each one in great detail (two of
which are contained in Appendix B).
It is important, however, to refrain from over-
generalizing the results on the basis of age, as some of
the youngest children (e.g., Speaker 1 in Appendix B)
offered elaborate responses, whereas some of the oldest
adults offered rather simple ones. Thus, it appears that
individual exceptions can occur at both ends of the age
continuum despite the general trend toward greater
1058 Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol. 48 1048–1064 October 2005
syntactic complexity as a function of increasing chro-
nological age. Indeed, despite the statistically signifi-
cant group effects, speakers within every age group
demonstrated considerable variability in performance.
For example, inspection of the ranges and means
reported in Table 2 indicates that there were 11-year-
old children whose expository performance (e.g., mean
length of T-unit) resembled that of the average 25-
year-old adult, just as there were speakers in their 20s
and 40s whose performance (e.g., RC use) resembled
that of the average 8- or 11-year-old child. Similar
patterns can be observed in all age groups. Because
speakers of any age appear to differ widely in the use of
complex syntax during the years between middle
childhood and middle adulthood, the means reported
in Tables 1 and 2 should be thought of as estimates
rather than as standards or norms. This is particularly
true considering the means are based on fairly small
sample sizes and represent the performance of English-
speaking children, adolescents, and adults living in
western Oregon. In addition, it is unknown how these
speakers might perform on other types of expository
tasks.
Nonetheless, it is notable that this pattern of wide
individual differences within groups has been observed
in early childhood as well. Bates and her colleagues
(Bates, 2003; Bates, Dale, & Thal, 1995) reported strik-
ing examples of this in their studies of the grammatical
development of healthy, middle-class toddlers. As they
emphasized, these large individual differences pose
serious difficulties for the notion of identifying deficits
in the language development of young children. As the
present study indicates, large individual differences
pose similar challenges for identifying deficits in older
children, adolescents, and adults. To solve this prob-
lem, it will be necessary to recruit large numbers of par-
ticipants for each age group (e.g., 100+) so that valid
percentiles (e.g., 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, 90th) and stan-
dard scores on each measure can be established. It will
be important also to recruit participants from diverse
cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic backgrounds
and to build those differences into the normative
database. Then, to account for individual differences,
it will be necessary to examine expository discourse in
conjunction with other cognitive and linguistic skills
such as verbal reasoning, spoken and written language
comprehension, and academic achievement. It will be
interesting also to perform more fine-grained analyses
of the data. This could include an examination of non-
finite clauses, noun- and verb-phrase elaboration, and
later developing infinitive, gerundive, and participial
phrases. The interface between syntactic and lexical de-
velopment could also be investigated by charting the use
of later developing adverbial conjuncts (e.g., moreover,
similarly) to achieve cohesion across clauses.
We emphasize the importance of recruiting larger
numbers of participants in future research, given some
of the findings of the present study. For example, it is
surprising that the 13-year-old adolescents appeared
to perform below the 11-year-old children, especially
in mean T-unit length and the use of subordination
(see Figures 2–6). Although not statistically significant,
this slight drop in performance is counter to what has
been observed in past research. For example, Loban
(1976) found gradual increases in mean C-unit length
and subordination when comparing Grades 5 and 8,
and other investigators have reported that other
aspects of language (e.g., semantics) undergo rapid
growth as children make the transition into adoles-
cence (e.g., Nippold & Haq, 1996; Nippold, Hegel,
Sohlberg, & Schwarz, 1999; Nippold & Rudzinski,
1993). Larger sample sizes would help to determine
the validity of this unexpected drop.
Developmental studies of expository discourse are
just emerging. It is clear that many additional inves-
tigations remain to be conducted in this arena, par-
ticularly in building a database that can be used by
speech-language pathologists to assess the develop-
ment of discourse in children, adolescents, and adults.
Studies that attempt to account for the wide individual
differences observed within age groups will be most
informative, particularly when they include speakers
who exhibit patterns of delayed, average, and even
superior language development.
Acknowledgments
This project was partially supported by Grant
2P50DC02746-06A1 from the National Institute on Deafness
and Other Communication Disorders and a Summer Faculty
Research Award from the University of Oregon, awarded
to Marilyn A. Nippold.
We express sincere gratitude to the children,
adolescents, and adults who participated in this research
project and to the teachers and administrators who granted
permission for the testing to take place at their schools.
The assistance of Communication Disorders and Sciences
graduate students in collecting and transcribing the
language samples is also greatly appreciated.
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Received May 25, 2004
Revision received August 25, 2004
Accepted January 9, 2005
DOI: 10.1044/1092-4388(2005/073)
Contact author: Marilyn A. Nippold, Communication
Disorders and Sciences, College of Education, University of
Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403. E-mail: nippold@uoregon.edu
1060 Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol. 48 1048–1064 October 2005
Appendix A. Definitions and examples of T-units, C-units, fragments, and clauses.
T-Unit
A T-unit contains one independent (main) clause and any dependent (subordinate) clauses or nonclausal structures that are attached to it or
embedded within it (Hunt, 1970). For example, the utterance ‘‘Bill bought a new bicycle before he went to Europe’’ is one T-unit that contains an
independent clause (‘‘Bill bought a new bicycle’’) and a dependent clause (‘‘before he went to Europe’’). In contrast, the utterance ‘‘Bill went to
France and then he went to Italy’’ consists of two T-units because it contains two independent clauses joined by the coordinating conjunction ‘‘and.’’
Whenever a coordinating conjunction (e.g., ‘‘and,’’ ‘‘but,’’ ‘‘so’’) initiates an independent clause, that clause is considered to be a new T-unit.
C-Unit
A C-unit is identical to a T-unit but includes responses that lack an independent clause when answering a question (Loban, 1976). For example,
the response ‘‘yes’’ to the question ‘‘Did Jack drive?’’ is one C-unit.
Fragment
A fragment is an utterance that lacks a main verb and/or a subject; therefore, it is not an independent clause (Crews, 1977). It does not answer a
question. For example, the following utterances are fragments: ‘‘going down the road,’’ ‘‘the other day,’’ ‘‘2 weeks later.’’
Independent (Main) Clause
An independent clause contains a subject and a main verb and makes a complete statement (Crews, 1977). For example, the following are both
independent clauses: ‘‘Mother rode her bicycle to work today,’’ and ‘‘It started to rain late last night.’’
Dependent (Subordinate) Clauses
A dependent clause contains a subject and a main verb but does not make a complete statement; therefore, it cannot stand alone. There are three
main types of dependent clauses: relative, adverbial, and nominal (Crews, 1977; Quirk & Greenbaum, 1973):
1. A relative clause (i.e., adjective clause) acts like an adjective and modifies the noun that precedes it: for example, ‘‘The cat that was sleeping
on the couch was content.’’
2. An adverbial clause acts like an adverb and modifies a verb. It often describes a condition or cause and begins with a subordinate conjunction:
for example, ‘‘Unless we can reach Los Angeles by eight o’clock, we’ll miss the concert.’’
3. A nominal clause is a noun-like element that can serve as either the subject of a sentence (e.g., ‘‘Whatever she told you about the wedding
was a great exaggeration’’) or its object (e.g., ‘‘I told her what she needed to hear’’). Nominal clauses often begin with wh-words: For example,
‘‘I never know where I should park ’’; ‘‘My desire to become a nurse is why I study so hard’’; ‘‘Checkmate is when your opponent ’s king
cannot escape.’’
Nippold et al.: Conversational Versus Expository Discourse 1061
Appendix B (p. 1 of 3). Portions of transcripts recorded from children, adolescents, and adults, speaking in
conversational and expository genres (MLTU = mean length of T-unit, IC = independent clause, RC = relative clause,
AVC = adverbial clause, NOM = nominal clause, FRG = fragment).
Each type of clause is coded immediately after the main verb. If a clause contains more than one main verb, the clause code occurs after the first main
verb. MLTU is based on the complete sample.
Speaker 1: Boy, Age 8;7
Conversation About Dogs and Stepsisters (MLTU = 6.41 Words)
I’d like [IC] a dog.
Well I just like [IC] them.
My grandpa has [IC] one.
My dad used [IC] to have one.
And my other grandpa had [IC] one.
I have [IC] some stepsisters.
One’s [IC] thirteen.
Another’s [IC] like seventeen.
Another’s [IC] twenty.
Another’s [IC] thirty-four.
Explanation of Poker (MLTU = 8.49 Words)
So probably the most difficult rule about poker is [IC] trying to figure out how much you should bet [NOM].
You have [IC] to decide whether your hand’s [NOM] good enough to bet.
But you don’t know [IC] what his hand is [NOM].
So you have [IC] to guess what his hand is [NOM].
The highest thing you can get [RC] in poker is [IC] a royal flush.
Everybody I know [RC] that plays [RC] poker has never gotten [IC] a royal flush.
Royal flushes are [IC] probably the hardest thing to get and the best.
Nothing can beat [IC] a royal flush.
If the other guy decides [AVC] to play a royal flush and you have [AVC] a royal flush with a pair of aces, you’re gonna win [IC].
I got [IC] a plain old flush once.
Speaker 2: Girl, Age 10;9
Conversation About Sister (MLTU = 7.38 Words)
I’m [IC] used to being patient.
My newest sister Katie she’s learning [IC] to crawl and stand up.
And she crawls [IC] into my room.
I have [IC] to keep all my stuff put away.
My small stuff [FRG].
Or Katie will lose [IC] it.
Sometimes she’ll try [IC] to eat it.
And that’s [IC] bad because my bookshelf.
One shelf is [IC] this high.
And one shelf is [IC] that high.
Explanation of Chess (MLTU = 8.77 Words)
The object of the game is [IC] to get the other opponent’s king.
If the bishop was [AVC] right here and the king was [AVC] right here, that would be [IC] check.
And if the rook was [AVC] right here, it would be [IC] check.
And if the other rook was [AVC] right here, it would be [IC] checkmate.
And if you could go [AVC] here because you couldn’t go [AVC] there, it’s [IC] checkmate.
In check, you’re only going [IC] to be checked one way.
They can get [IC] your king one way.
But in mate, they can get [IC] them everyway.
And then if one of your pawns gets [AVC] all the way back, you get [IC] another queen.
But you don’t want [IC] to get a queen if the other person’s queen is [AVC] right there.
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Appendix B (p. 2 of 3). Portions of transcripts recorded from children, adolescents, and adults, speaking in
conversational and expository genres (MLTU = mean length of T-unit, IC = independent clause, RC = relative clause,
AVC = adverbial clause, NOM = nominal clause, FRG = fragment).
Speaker 3: Adolescent Boy, Age 14;2
Conversation About Halloween and Sisters (MLTU = 6.26 Words)
We went [IC] door to door.
And we got [IC] candy.
And we just walked [IC] around.
I just threw [IC] a clown thing on.
Then I went [IC].
I didn’t dress [IC] up.
I have [IC] two sisters.
My oldest sister’s [IC] fifteen.
Her name’s [IC] Terry.
And my younger sister’s [IC] eleven.
Explanation of Baseball (MLTU = 9.96 Words)
There’s [IC] nine people on the field.
There’s [IC] a pitcher, first baseman, a second baseman, a third baseman, a short stop which stands [RC] between third and second, the catcher.
And there’s [IC] a left fielder, a right fielder, and center field.
You go [IC] up to bat.
And you get [IC] however many pitches.
But if you swing [AVC] at three of them and you miss [AVC] them, then you’re [IC] out.
And strike is [IC] when it goes [NOM] down the middle and you could have swung [NOM] but you didn’t [NOM].
A ball is [IC] when it didn’t go [NOM] over the plate and you hit [NOM] the ball.
And a home run is [IC] when you hit [NOM] it over the fence or you hit [NOM] it and you make [NOM]
it all the way around the bases without stopping.
A grand slam is [IC] when the bases are [NOM] loaded and someone hits [NOM] a home run and everyone goes [NOM] in.
Speaker 4: Adolescent Girl, Age 17;11
Conversation About School (MLTU = 10.19 Words)
I play [IC] five different musical instruments.
I play [IC] the flute, the oboe, the piccolo, the keyboard, and the piano.
I was [IC] part of the band.
But I had [IC] to take some required classes this term.
So I chose [IC] an independent study class where I’m teaching [NOM] myself how to play the piano and the keyboard.
And I’ve been [IC] in band since fourth grade.
So I just picked [IC] up instruments.
And when I got [AVC] bored with one, I went [IC] to another.
I’m going [IC] to be a music teacher or a business teacher.
My freshman year I had [IC] to take accounting or keyboarding as an elective class.
Explanation of the Shot Put (MLTU = 13.62 Words)
And you can do [IC] what’s [NOM] called the standing throw half spin or a full spin hop in the ring.
And the standing throw is [IC] you go [NOM] up to the board.
And if you’re [AVC] left handed, you usually face [IC] east.
And if you’re [AVC] right handed, you face [IC] west and put the ball up to about the center of your neck and curve your arm out.
And you just bend [IC] down and throw the ball out as far as you can [AVC].
And if you do [AVC] a half spin, what you do [NOM] is [IC] you put [NOM] whatever foot you’re [RC] dominated with, which is [RC]
whatever foot you usually start walking [RC] with, up against the board point where you’re going [RC] to land in the ring,
which is [RC] a 20 foot mark, a 30 foot mark, and 40 foot mark, a 50 foot mark.
You point [IC] to yourself where you think [NOM] you’re going [NOM] to go just to give yourself a place to land.
You put [IC] your other foot that you don’t have [RC] against the board’s back.
And you spin [IC] around.
And you have [IC] to fall off your spin as you come [AVC] around and face the field.
Nippold et al.: Conversational Versus Expository Discourse 1063
Speaker 5: Man, Age 26;5
Conversation About Dogs (MLTU = 8.70 Words)
I’m [IC] married.
And I have [IC] three dogs.
They’re [IC] my family.
We have [IC] two Jack Russell terriers, one yellow lab.
Two boys are [IC] the terriers.
And one girl’s [IC] the lab.
And I like [IC] our dogs a lot.
They’re [IC] kind of like our children.
And we train [IC] our dogs a little bit of obedience, which is [AVC] fun.
You can compete [IC] if you would like [AVC] to.
Explanation of Cross-Country Running (MLTU = 11.81 Words)
When I was [AVC] in high school, we were taught [IC] some different strategies as far as racing tactics
that we could use [RC] to fool your opponent, tire them out more quickly.
A couple of different things that I used [RC] to do was [IC] a lot of surging, which involves [RC] you racing along.
And then you’ll run [IC] harder for a short period of time or a burst of speed over a short period of time.
And you do [IC] it maybe five or six times throughout the race, different lengths and different bursts,
and just try to tire out your opponent so you can break [AVC] away from them and win the race.
Another tactic is [IC] when you have [AVC] a lot of corners in a race and you can turn [AVC]
a corner and not be seen by your opponent, put [NOM] in a surge.
So when your opponent comes [AVC] around the corner, you’re [IC] farther ahead than you were [NOM] before.
And that’s [IC] a mental tactic because it tends [AVC] to make them want to give up.
That’s [IC] one of my favorites.
Other people that have [RC] good sprint speed will just hang [IC] on whomever until the last half to quarter mile.
And then they’ll just use [IC] their superior foot speed to take off and win.
Speaker 6: Man, Age 40;8
Conversation About Cat (MLTU = 9.38 Words)
It’s [IC] a pretty mellow cat.
It’s [IC] like my family.
Pretty mellow for the most part [FRG].
My daughter begged [IC] me.
And we had [IC] to go to the pound and get a cat.
And they had [IC] to pick her out.
She’s [IC] a pretty cat.
She really fits [IC] with the family well.
No, I went [IC] with my family.
We all lounged [IC] around with the pets.
Explanation of Basketball (MLTU = 12.18 Words)
One strategy could be [IC] that you try [NOM] to advance the ball very quickly before the other team can get [AVC] back and cover and play defense.
That would be [IC] called a fast break.
So if one team tried [AVC] to score a goal, the offense tried [AVC] to score a goal, but they missed [AVC],
and the defensive team rebounded [AVC] the basketball, or got the basketball, then they would advance [IC] the ball as quickly
as possible down the court so that they could try [AVC] to score before the other team got [AVC] back to defend their goal.
That would be [IC] called a fast break.
So that’s [IC] one strategy.
Some teams play [IC] really fast.
Another strategy is [IC] opposite of that where teams like [NOM] to control the basketball so that they play [AVC] a much more physical game in that way.
And the score is [IC] lower.
But they try [IC] to control the basketball by keeping it in their possession for a long time before they score [AVC] a goal.
Well, they have [IC] to be able to move up and down the court very quickly.
Appendix B (p. 3 of 3). Portions of transcripts recorded from children, adolescents, and adults, speaking in
conversational and expository genres (MLTU = mean length of T-unit, IC = independent clause, RC = relative clause,
AVC = adverbial clause, NOM = nominal clause, FRG = fragment).
1064 Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research Vol. 48 1048–1064 October 2005