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LINGUIST List 17.311

Mon Jan 30 2006

Diss: Applied Ling: Raman: 'Inflection As a Marker o...'

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        1.    Madhavi Raman, Inflection As a Marker of Language Impairment in Second Language Learners: A cross-linguistic study


Message 1: Inflection As a Marker of Language Impairment in Second Language Learners: A cross-linguistic study
Date: 30-Jan-2006
From: Madhavi Raman <gayathriramanyahoo.com>
Subject: Inflection As a Marker of Language Impairment in Second Language Learners: A cross-linguistic study


Institution: Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages
Program: English Language Teaching
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2005

Author: Madhavi Gayathri Raman

Dissertation Title: Inflection As a Marker of Language Impairment in Second Language Learners: A cross-linguistic study

Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics

Dissertation Director:
R. Amritavalli
Michael Ullman

Dissertation Abstract:

This thesis investigates the possibility of identifying language impairment
in child learners of English as a second language (ESL) through a series of
tests in inflectional morphology in English and in their L1 (here
Malayalam). Our study assumes an approach to reading problems within the
paradigm of Specific Language Impairment (SLI), seeing oral language
problems as predating reading difficulties that arise in reading for
meaning rather than in the mere decoding of text.

The investigation of SLI in a second language is particularly problematic
as performance in the second language could be confounded by the variable
of acquisition itself. In Chapter 2, we raise the issue of testing second
language populations using diagnostic tests that are norm-referenced for
monolingual English-speaking populations and caution against instances of
"missed identity" and "mistaken identity". Very recently, Paradis (2005)
has suggested that language impairment in L2 learners should be identified
by norm-referencing their performance in the L2 with their own L1
performance. This has been an exploratory study in that direction. We
investigate difficulties with inflectional morphology using parallel past
tense and plural production and judgment tasks in English and Malayalam.
These tasks serve as a probe for the dual-mechanism model of computation
and representation of inflections (regular and irregular past tense and
plural) in an ESL context.

Our main conclusion from our sample of 17 Malayalam-English bilingual
children (6 girls, 11 boys, mean age 8 years, 5 months), is that persistent
problems with inflectional morphology in English imply corresponding
problems in Malayalam: i.e., problems in the L2 manifest in the L1 as well.
This is evident in the performance of the "outliers" (whose score is below
the "lower fence" of the group, i.e., 1.5 inter quartile ranges below the
25th percentile). Disturbingly, 7 subjects (2 girls, 5 boys) out of our
sample population of 17 are identified as outliers in English and Malayalam
in a minimum of one pair of tasks and a maximum of 10 tasks (out of 32).
Interestingly, a child from the upper end of this continuum was
independently clinically identified (albeit on tests norm-referenced for
monolingual English populations) while our work was in progress.

As hypothesized, performance on real regular verbs is superior to that on
irregular verbs, thereby confirming the dual-mechanism hypothesis in the
context of L2 acquisition. Indeed it seems that real irregulars are
encountered so sparsely as to be perceived as novel forms.

The hypothesis that a lack of overregularization of irregular verbs will
serve to differentiate the at-risk group from the others does not receive
support from our data. Rather, it is the error pattern (such as the use of
unmarked forms, the incorrect acceptance of stem forms, the rejection of
past and plural marked forms) that serves to distinguish these two
populations. If normality and impairment are two ends of a cline, then
children prone to errors, outliers, and those at risk for SLI, lie at
progressive points along that cline.

Our hypothesis that nominal inflections are easier than verbal inflections
is confirmed for English; there is no significant difference between verbs
and nouns in Malayalam. This reflects the acquisitional status of the two
languages. Correspondingly, performance on Malayalam verbs is better than
on English verbs; but there is no L1 advantage in the case of nouns.





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