|Title:||The 'Noun Advantage' in English as a Second Language: A Study of the Natural Partitions Hypothesis||Add Dissertation|
|Author:||Vijaya Vijaya||Update Dissertation|
|Email:||click here to access email|
|Institution:||English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, English Language Education|
|Linguistic Subfield(s):||Cognitive Science; Language Acquisition;|
|Abstract:||First language studies on early vocabulary acquisition have shown a stage of 'noun advantage' in child vocabulary around one year of age. Gentner (1982) in her 'natural partitions hypothesis' had argued that nouns are acquired early because the referents for these concepts or percepts are readily available in the environment. In a later hypothesis of Division of Dominance, Gentner and Boroditsky (2001) proposed a distinction between the acquisition of open and closed classes in terms of their concept-to-word mapping. Cognitive dominance prevails when concepts are simply named by language as in the case of nouns. Linguistic dominance prevails when the clustering of perceptual bits is not pre-ordained and is determined by language as in the case of verbs. This cross-sectional study shows a noun advantage in second language acquisition in an instructional setting, grade five of a Kendriya Vidyalaya in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, India. The explanation offered for this noun advantage is linguistic rather than cognitive, in accordance with the relational relativity corollary of
Gentner and Boroditsky (2001).
A group of 32 second language learners of English between 9 and 11 years of age, whose first language was Hindi were studied by recording and analyzing the learners' spontaneous oral narratives in English and Hindi. A set of four wordless picture books was used for elicitation of the narratives. The following properties of the second language data were studied: vocabulary size and vocabulary diversity. The study of vocabulary size involved a study of the 'token' frequencies of nouns and verbs, a study of the comparative development of various word classes (nouns, verbs, determiners, prepositions, conjunctions, adverbs and adjectives), and a study of the relationship between the length of narratives and noun advantage. Vocabulary diversity was measured in terms of the metrics of 'type' frequencies, 'type-to-token ratios' and the measure 'D'.
Five developmental stages of early second language vocabulary acquisition are postulated by the study: Noun-only stage, Approximate-to-noun-only stage, Verb-onset stage, Approximate-to-verb-dominance stage and Verb-dominance stage. Ten percent of the population showing a clear dominance of noun tokens over verb tokens is at the Noun-only stage. Another ten percent of the population showing verb tokens clearly exceeding noun tokens is at the Verb-dominance stage. The Approximate-to-noun-only and Approximate-to-verb-dominance stages are similar to the Noun-only and Verb-dominance stages respectively. The Verb-onset stage shows the appearance of word combinations resembling the two-word stage of first language acquisition. There is a marked rise in the number of verbs as well as closed classes: determiners, prepositions, and conjunctions at this stage. It is also found that the shortest narratives are produced by learners at the Noun-only stage. A noun advantage in learners' vocabulary is also seen in the analysis of the 'type' frequencies. It is shown that the lexical diversity measure of 'D' fails to capture the lexical richness of early vocabularies in smaller sample sizes with a restricted variety of word classes.
This study also highlights a gap between instruction and acquisition in the second language classroom under study. The differences in student proficiencies captured in terms of the five developmental stages did not match student performance on class examinations. Instructional practices show an overt attempt to suppress differences among the linguistic abilities of the students. The methodology followed for teaching reading and writing being heavily dependent on rote learning does not provide for exposure to the second language in the true sense.