Citekey: @Laufer01121994

Laufer B (1994). “The Lexical Profile of Second Language Writing: Does It Change Over Time?” RELC Journal, 25(2), pp. 21-33. <URL:>,, <URL:>.


One of the classic studies by Laufer around Lexical Frequency Profile.


lexical richness, (p. 2)

lexical variation. (p. 2)

lexical acquisition research would have to account for the gradual increase in the learner’s vocabulary size, as the most striking difference between the vocabulary of native speakers and that of language learners is in the number of words they can control, particularly in free production: speech or writing. (p. 2)

However, longitudinal studies of the development of the productive lexicon are almost non-existent. (p. 2)

ngber(1993), like Linnarud (1986), has examined the relationship between various lexical measures of a piece of writing and holistic scores of writing quality. (p. 3)

Even more impressive are the results of Astika (1993). The study showed that among five components that contributed to the assessment of writing (content, organization, vocabulary, language use and mechanics), vocabulary accounted for the largest amount of variance in the total scores, a variance of 83.75%. (p. 3)

let us look at the most popular measures: lexical originality,lexical density, lexical sophistication and lexical variation. The Lexical originality index measures the number of words unique to one learner in the test group. If the group changes,the index changes too. An unstable score cannot be considered reliable. Lexical density, which is the percentage of lexical words in the composition, does not necessarily measure lexis proper, since it also depends on thesyntacticandcohesivepropertiesofthecomposition as reflected in the use of function words. Therefore its validity is questionable. Lexical sophistication is the percentage of ’advanced words’ in the text. But the definition of ’advanced’ depends on the researcher and the group that is tested. What is advanced for a learner after 3 years of studies is not advanced after 5 or 7 years. Lexical variation, or type-token ratio,isthemostwidelyusedmeasure. Butahighlexical variation does not necessarily indicate rich vocabulary. This is so because the index distinguishes only between same and different words used in a composition, but not between basic and advanced words as defined by their rarity. Thus, similar variation indices can reflect different vocabulary sizes. (p. 3)

different measure of lexical richness was devised the Lexical Frequency Profile, hence LFP. The LFP shows the percentage of words that a learner uses at different vocabulary frequency levels in his/her writing, or put differently, the proportion of words from different frequency levels vis a vis one another. The LFP is calculated as follows. Let us imagine a composition which consists of 200 word types, 150 belong to the first 1000 most frequent words, 20 to the second 1000, 20 to the UWL-University World List (Xue Guoyi and Nation 1984) and 10 are not in any list. To calculate the LFP, we convert these numbers (the number of words at each frequency level) into percentages out of the total of 200 word types. The LFP of the composition is therefore 75% 10% 10% 5%. (p. 4)

he validity and reliability of LFP as a research tool were shown by Laufer and Nation (1993). (p. 4)

Research Questions The specific research questions of the study were as follows: 1. Does the lexical profile of advanced learners’ compositions change over a period of time and how? 2. Does the lexical variation in advanced learners’ compositions change over a period of time and how? 3. Is there a relationship between the changes in the profiles and the changes in the lexical variation in the learners’ writing? (p. 5)

The subjects in the study were forty eight first year University studentsinthedepartmentofEnglishLanguageandLiterature. They were graduates of Israeli high schools, i.e. their level of English was similar to that required for the Cambridge First Certificate of English. (p. 5)

The data in the study consisted of free compositions written by the learnersatthreepointsoftime. (p. 6)

orty-eightcompositionsfromtheentrance exam were collected. At the end of the first semester (fourteen weeks), twenty three learners were asked to write the same composition again in the framework of a two-semester Style and Composition course; at the end of the two semesters (twenty eight weeks), the remaining twenty five students were given the composition of the entrance exam. (p. 6)

ll the compositions were analyzed in terms of number of tokens and types in each composition. Therefore a lexical variation index could easily be calculated for each composition. (p. 6)

Subsequently, pairs of compositions written by the same learners (one at the entrance exam, the other at the end of first or second semester) were compared. Data analysis was as follows: Comparisons of means (paired t-tests) were carried out between the percentages of words at each of the four frequency levels (the 1 st 1000, the 2nd 1000, the UWL and words not in any of the lists), on the entrance exam and at the end of the first semester for group one; the entrance exam and the end of the second semesterforgrouptwo. Comparisonswerealsocarriedoutbetweenthe percentage of words in the four levels vis a vis one another (by MANOVA) for each pair of compositions. Each pair of compositions was also compared on the lexical variation (by paired t-test). Finally, the change in the variation was correlated with the change in lexical profile. (p. 6)

fter one or two semesters the proportion of most frequent words (at the 1 st 1000 level) decreases, the quantity of the words at the 2nd 1000 decreases as well, though less so, the percentage of UWL increases (the increase is statistically significant), and the percentage of ’not in the lists’ words has slightly gone up in group one and has slightly gone down in group 2. (p. 8)

Tables Five and Six show that group one progressed in lexical variation, but not significantly so, while group 2 has not progressed at all. (p. 9)

here is no relationship whatsoever between the progress of a student with regard to lexical richness and the change in lexical variation. (p. 10)

So the general tendency is for the basic vocabulary to decrease and be replaced by a more advanced vocabulary. (p. 10)

t first this may seem an indication of the learners’ progress in the productive vocabulary, but the results should be interpreted with some caution. Even if the learners’ vocabulary size has increased, the lexical profile does not come close to the profile of argumentative prose produced by native speakers. A group of 18 year old English native speakers was tested in a different study (Laufer, in preparation) and the percentage of the beyond 2000 words was between 25% and 28%. (p. 10)

The second research question related to the changes in lexical variation. Tables Five and Six show that there was no significant change in lexical variation. Moreover,thevariationitselfwaslowcomparedtothevariation of native speakers who are high school graduates. The lexical variation in their compositions was found to be 70% (Linnarud 1983). Therefore, if one aspect of vocabulary learning is improving one’s ability to vary his/ her vocabulary, not much learning has taken place in the case of the learners in our study. (p. 11)

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