Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English



First Advisor

Paul G. Arakelian


In this study I tested the standard assumptions about differences in language usage in adult and children's literature by analyzing parallel passages from the works of four authors, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George MacDonald, Oscar Wilde, and John Gardner, who each wrote prose fantasy for both audiences.

A computer program and syntactic code based on those used by York University in Toronto provided a statistical analysis of the 20,000 words of selected text. I found that the passages from the children's books had much shorter paragraphs, and slightly shorter sentences, T-units, clauses, and words. T-units were the most consistently and notably reduced elements. The children's books also had more lexical repetition and fewer abstract and Latinate words and tended towards a verbal style. These characteristics support some of the common assumptions about children's literature, but the differences were slighter than anticipated. In the area of syntax, the assumption that coordination would increase and subordination decrease markedly in the children's stories did not prove true. Coordination was only marginally more frequent in the children's passages, and subordination nearly equal in both sets. The reduction of prepositions in the juvenile samples seems of more significance syntactically. In the children's passages there are large increases in the amount of dialogue and in the use of Germanic based words.

My general conclusion is that the differences in the children's passages reflect a stronger tendency towards everyday speech, that children's authors borrow more conventions from conversation and from oral traditions when writing for a child audience.



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