ation rule used in the textual modification component of the PSET project is:
(S (?a) (S (?b) (S (?c) ) ) ) −→ (?a) (?c)
The left hand side of this rule unifies with structures of the form shown in figure 1.1 and the rule simply discards the conjunction (?b) and makes new sentences out of (?a) and (?c). This rule can be used, for example, to perform the following modification:
The proceedings are unfair and any punishment from the guild would be unjustified. The proceedings are unfair. Any punishment from the guild would be unjustified. The PSET project explored a wide range of simplification options, including lexical simplification, conversion of passives to actives and resolving pronouns. Lexical simplification involves replacing difficult words with simpler synonyms. The PSET project used Word Net (Miller et al., 1993) to identify synonyms and obtained word frequency statistics from the Oxford Psycholinguistic Database (Quinlan, 1992) to determine the relative difficulty of words (Devlin and Tait, 1998).
The syntactic component of PSET comprised three components— anaphora resolution, syntactic simplification and anaphora replacement. The anaphora resolution algorithm was based on CogNIAC (Baldwin, 1997) and Canning et al. (2000b) report a recall of 60% with precision of 84% on newspaper text.
The syntactic constructs that the PSET project simplified were coordinated clauses and passive voice. Canning (2002) reports that there were only 75 instances of coordination in her corpus of 100 news reports from the Sunderland Echo. This meant that the level of simplification achieved was unlikely to be useful. As I describe in this thesis, a treatment of relative clauses, subordination and apposition can result in a higher level of simplification.
The attempt at converting passive voice to active had mixed success. Canning (2002) reports that only one out five passive constructs had an expressed surface agent. The rest were agent less; for example, in she was taken to Sunderland Royal Hospital. Further, passive constructs were often deeply embedded within a sentence, making the agent difficult to recover.
Canning (2002) reports that in her 100 news report corpus, there were only 33 agentive passive constructs. Out of these, her program converted only 55% correctly to active voice. Even the correctly converted sentences sometimes seemed odd; for example:
He was struck down by the brain disease last October.
The brain disease last October struck him down.
The main contribution of the syntactic component of PSET was the application of a pronoun resolution algorithm to text simplification (Canning, 2002). The aim was to replace pronouns with their antecedent noun phrases, to help aphasics who might otherwise have difficulty in resolving them. Intra-sentential anaphora were not replaced, to avoid producing sentences like Mr Smith said Mr Smith was unhappy.
Canning (2002) conducted an evaluation of the effect of pronoun replacement on comprehension on 16 aphasic subjects and reported 20% faster reading times and 7% better scores on question answering tests when pronouns were replaced.
1.2) Statement of the problem
Reading is definitely a basic means to literacy as well as language learning. Talking about this skill, we have to bring into focus the who and what of reading; that is the reader and the reading material. We cannot reach to reading objectives unless we establish a proper match between these two elements. Actually, prior to teaching reading, appropriate material should be selected. As Thonis (1970) suggests:
“The choice of material is big decision because it usually determines the vocabulary, language structures, and concepts which make up the reading program….These learning materials will influence the learning outcomes more than anything else in the classroom (p, 143).”
A distinction should be made between reading comprehension which is the focus of this study and reading aloud which is reading without the reader getting much to meaning (Birjandi, Mosallanejad, Bagheridoust, 2006; p, 211). What we mean by reading comprehension is reading a passage for meaning or for recreating the writer’s meaning without vocalizing what is being read. The ultimate purpose of reading is comprehension of written passage (Birjandi, Mosallanejad, Bagheridoust, 2006; p, 212).
As it was mentioned before, in any reading course, the material is the most important part. Because through access to authentic, organized materials, reading ability can be maintained at a higher level by students themselves. But it should be mentioned that if students are exposed to original texts, which don’t match the students’ knowledge and experience, the texts become too complex for the comprehension to occur. Besides, students might develop a negative attitude towards reading and many of them may avoid reading at all.
As a matter of fact, reading comprehension entails three elements: the reader who is meant to comprehend; the text that is to be comprehended and the activity in which comprehension is a part of (Snow, 2002). In addition to the content presented in the text, the vocabulary load of the text and its linguistic structure, discourse style, and genre interact with the reader’s knowledge. When these factors do not match the reader’s knowledge and experience, the text becomes too complex for the comprehension to occur. One solution for this problem is introducing modified readings at the beginning levels and increasing the complexities of the text as the student’s progress, via a process called Text Simplification (TS). The aim of textual modification is to maximize the comprehension of written texts through simplifying their linguistic structure. This involves simplifying syntactic structure by breaking down and changing the syntactic structure of the sentence. As a result, it is expected that the text can be more easily understood by learners (Mapleson, 2006; Siddharthan, 2003, Max, 2006).
Besides, textual modification may involve dropping parts or full sentences and adding some extra material to explain a difficult point. textual modification in the past has been defined as any process that reduces the syntactic complexity of a text while attempting to preserve its meaning and information content (Jarrahian, 2006).Syntactic simplification is the process of reducing the grammatical complexity of a text, while retaining its information content and meaning (ibid). textual modification processes, following the 3stage architecture proposed by Siddhar than (2002), include stages of analysis, transformation and regeneration. To simplify, however, we need to take some factors into consideration. As Bruce and Robin (1988) hold:
“If text must be changed so that the intended readers can understand them we want to be able to identify what the barriers are and what improvements actually increase comprehension”.
As a matter of fact, how to simplify passages has been an area of controversy over the past few decades. However, despite the fact that there are many arguments against simplification, simplified passages are more attractive for many EFL students, and this fact shows that simplification, although it’s not theoretically proven, does have an impact on students’ comprehension of text.
Therefore, how text is to be simplified to aid comprehension is not a simple task to be done intuitively. Rather, it requires a scientific endeavor. The present study, therefore, is being carried out to shed scientific light onto sophisticated process of textual modification.
This study is addressed to investigate the effect of textual modification on Iranian upper-Intermediate EFL learners.
1.3) Purpose of the study:
This study aims at shedding light on using textual modification by reducing the grammatical complexity of a text while retaining its information content and meaning. Here, textual modification is going to help Iranian EFL students to comprehend the text. This study will investigate the
impact of textual modification on Iranian upper-Intermediate EFL Learners’ Reading Comprehension ability of these learners.
1.4) Research question
The present investigation aims at dealing with textual modification and investigates the following question:
-Does textual modification have any effect on Iranian upper-intermediate EFL learners’ Reading Comprehension ability?
1.5) Research hypothesis
On the basis of the above question the following null hypothesis is formulated:
– Textual Modification does not have any effect on Iranian upper-intermediate EFL learners’ reading comprehension ability.
1.6) Significance of the Study
This study is initiated to address the difficult problem of developing appropriate reading materials for upper-intermediate EFL learners at university. Materials are either original which are difficult and ineffective, or developed by non-native writers, which would be inauthentic and counterproductive. These authentic materials are often too hard for students who read at lower levels, since they may contain complicated structures.
This research has pedagogical and practical implications in that teachers and professors and practitioners whether at universities or schools should be aware of their students’ level of proficiency so simplify the reading comprehension texts syntactically. It is practical since it leads to a better material design. So this study aims at shedding light on using textual simplification by reducing the grammatical complexity of a text while retaining its information content and meaning. Here, textual Modification is going to help Iranian EFL university students to comprehend the text. This study will investigate the effect of textual Modification on reading comprehension ability of these learners.
According to Dickinson (Dickinson, 1996), where an instruction system is catering for learners with varying specific requirements in language learning, the most effective way to provide them with proper materials is to base the instruction on authentic texts. Proponents of authentic texts tout positive effects on students’ interest and motivation and advantages of exposing students to “real” language and culture.
However, Byrnes (Byrnes, 1985) implies that such authentic texts may be problematic for learners. Authentic materials are often too hard for learners who read at lower levels, as they may contain more complex language structures and vocabulary than texts intended for learners.
Nevertheless, a third way is to reconcile these two ideas. That is, to tune syntactic structure of an authentic text to the level of learners via a process of simplification. But unfortunately materials either original or fabricated by non-native writers are not appropriate for EFL learners. So this study is shedding light on the difficult problem of developing appropriate reading material at intermediate level by investigating syntactic simplification which, at the end, would lead to simplified authentic reading materials.
Davison (1988) stated that over 60 percent of native speakers of English were attempting to read materials in various subjects which had been judged to be too difficult for their reading skills and general reading development. Thonis (1970) conducted similar studies on high school textbooks. They found that the reading level of the textbooks tended to be above the reading ability of majority of students.
The same findings were reported by Singer (1989). He noted that the reading requirements of the various subjects in the textbooks are burdensome. Furthermore, a brief survey of ESP students’ language proficiency and their textbooks in Iran reveals that they are not well-matched. Such novice readers get easily frustrated and discourage unless text would be modified adequately. So there is a need to make reading materials appropriate syntactically so that there is a match between students’ knowledge of grammar and the syntax of