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Lexical Form-Class Effects in Foreign Language Learning: A Study of the English Produced by Advanced Swedish Learners

Källkvist, Marie LU (1997)
Abstract
This dissertation examines the effects of the three major lexical form-classes in English (nouns, lexical verbs, and adjectives) on lexical infelicity in the English of adult advanced Swedish learners. By lexical infelicity is meant deviations from the native English norm in meaning only. Morphological form is not taken into account. It has previously been established that there are some clear, distinct patterns exhibited by nouns and verbs in first language acquisition and processing, at leas in English. Explanations have been sought in the semantic properties of prototypical nouns and verbs, in the possibly elusive nature of verb reference, in features of input in first language acquisition, and in the suggestion that, in first language... (More)
This dissertation examines the effects of the three major lexical form-classes in English (nouns, lexical verbs, and adjectives) on lexical infelicity in the English of adult advanced Swedish learners. By lexical infelicity is meant deviations from the native English norm in meaning only. Morphological form is not taken into account. It has previously been established that there are some clear, distinct patterns exhibited by nouns and verbs in first language acquisition and processing, at leas in English. Explanations have been sought in the semantic properties of prototypical nouns and verbs, in the possibly elusive nature of verb reference, in features of input in first language acquisition, and in the suggestion that, in first language acquisition, gaining command of verbs requires a higher level of cognitive development than acquiring nouns. Very few studies have examined form-class effects in foreign or second language learning, and it has not yet been firmly established whether any of the major lexical word classes causes foreign language learners to produce more lexical infelicities than others. In addition, a descriptive account of English verbs from the point of view of foreign language learners seems noticeably absent in the literature.



This dissertation adopts a theoretical view developed through research in cognitive psychology and linguistics. The data consist of three different written tasks: free composition, written retelling of a short narrative, and translation test (from Swedish into English). The subjects are all native speakers of Swedish, most of whom were registered as undergraduates studying English at a Swedish university, but a few were preparing to take the Certificate for Proficiency in English in Sweden. The tasks were selected because they exert different degrees of control over word selection, i.e. students' mental lexicons are searched under somewhat different conditions for each task. Infelicities in the compositions and retellings were identified by a relatively large number of native speakers of English, representing different geographical varieties. For the translations, a committee of lecturers collaborated during the marking process, thus identifying the infelicities.



This dissertation contributes to a currently increasing body of research on English verbs by showing that these subjects are more likely to use lexical verbs than nouns infelicitously in the freer writing tasks, i.e. the compositions and retellings. From the infelicities generated, it is also shown which classes of lexical verbs and nouns tend to be used infelicitously, which is an issue not previously addressed. Results pertaining to adjectives remain hypothesis-generating rather than conclusive. It is further revealed that the kind of infelicity produced to a certain extent depends on the type of task, and the notion of task-type effect is therefore advanced. The findings are discussed in the light of previous research in the L1 and L2 acquisition of English, and with regard to the semantic properties of nouns and verbs. It is argued that the findings may be explained by the more complex semantics of verbs, and by the properties of certain frequent and semantically general English lexical verbs. This study therefore supports the previously generated hypothesis that English verbs are unprivileged in language acquisition partly due to their complex semantics. Implications for research methodology and further research are suggested. (Less)
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author
opponent
  • Professor Hoey, Michael, University of Liverpool
publishing date
type
Thesis
publication status
published
subject
pages
280 pages
defense location
Cambridge University
defense date
1997-03-27 13:00
language
English
LU publication?
no
id
d9808470-4c91-42ce-a918-8486b3859cf7 (old id 1267364)
date added to LUP
2009-10-07 12:27:05
date last changed
2016-09-19 08:45:15
@misc{d9808470-4c91-42ce-a918-8486b3859cf7,
  abstract     = {This dissertation examines the effects of the three major lexical form-classes in English (nouns, lexical verbs, and adjectives) on lexical infelicity in the English of adult advanced Swedish learners. By lexical infelicity is meant deviations from the native English norm in meaning only. Morphological form is not taken into account. It has previously been established that there are some clear, distinct patterns exhibited by nouns and verbs in first language acquisition and processing, at leas in English. Explanations have been sought in the semantic properties of prototypical nouns and verbs, in the possibly elusive nature of verb reference, in features of input in first language acquisition, and in the suggestion that, in first language acquisition, gaining command of verbs requires a higher level of cognitive development than acquiring nouns. Very few studies have examined form-class effects in foreign or second language learning, and it has not yet been firmly established whether any of the major lexical word classes causes foreign language learners to produce more lexical infelicities than others. In addition, a descriptive account of English verbs from the point of view of foreign language learners seems noticeably absent in the literature.<br/><br>
<br/><br>
This dissertation adopts a theoretical view developed through research in cognitive psychology and linguistics. The data consist of three different written tasks: free composition, written retelling of a short narrative, and translation test (from Swedish into English). The subjects are all native speakers of Swedish, most of whom were registered as undergraduates studying English at a Swedish university, but a few were preparing to take the Certificate for Proficiency in English in Sweden. The tasks were selected because they exert different degrees of control over word selection, i.e. students' mental lexicons are searched under somewhat different conditions for each task. Infelicities in the compositions and retellings were identified by a relatively large number of native speakers of English, representing different geographical varieties. For the translations, a committee of lecturers collaborated during the marking process, thus identifying the infelicities.<br/><br>
<br/><br>
This dissertation contributes to a currently increasing body of research on English verbs by showing that these subjects are more likely to use lexical verbs than nouns infelicitously in the freer writing tasks, i.e. the compositions and retellings. From the infelicities generated, it is also shown which classes of lexical verbs and nouns tend to be used infelicitously, which is an issue not previously addressed. Results pertaining to adjectives remain hypothesis-generating rather than conclusive. It is further revealed that the kind of infelicity produced to a certain extent depends on the type of task, and the notion of task-type effect is therefore advanced. The findings are discussed in the light of previous research in the L1 and L2 acquisition of English, and with regard to the semantic properties of nouns and verbs. It is argued that the findings may be explained by the more complex semantics of verbs, and by the properties of certain frequent and semantically general English lexical verbs. This study therefore supports the previously generated hypothesis that English verbs are unprivileged in language acquisition partly due to their complex semantics. Implications for research methodology and further research are suggested.},
  author       = {Källkvist, Marie},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {280},
  title        = {Lexical Form-Class Effects in Foreign Language Learning: A Study of the English Produced by Advanced Swedish Learners},
  year         = {1997},
}