More individual differences in language attainment: How much do adult native speakers of English know about passives and quantifiers?

James Street, Ewa Dabrowska

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Citations (Scopus)
29 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

This paper provides experimental evidence suggesting that there are considerable differences in native language attainment, and that these are at least partially attributable to individual speakers’ experience. Experiment 1 tested high academic attainment (hereafter, HAA) and low academic attainment (LAA) participants’ comprehension using a picture selection task. Test sentences comprised passives and two variants of the universal quantification construction. Active constructions were used as a control condition. HAA participants performed at ceiling in all conditions; LAA participants performed at ceiling only on actives. As predicted by usage-based accounts, the order of difficulty of the four sentence types mirrored their frequency. Experiment 2 tested whether the less-educated participants’ difficulties with these constructions are attributable to insufficient experience. After a screening test, low scoring participants were randomly assigned to two training groups. The passive training group were given a short training session on the passive construction; and the quantifier training group were trained on sentences with quantifiers. A series of post-training tests show that performance on the trained construction improved dramatically, and that the effect was long-lasting.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2080-2094
JournalLingua
Volume120
Issue number8
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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