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Academic Paper

Title: Lexically specific knowledge and individual differences in adult native speakers’ processing of the English passive
Author: James A. Street
Institution: Northumbria University
Author: Ewa Dabrowska
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: Northumbria University
Linguistic Field: Psycholinguistics; Syntax
Subject Language: English
Abstract: This article provides experimental evidence for the role of lexically specific representations in the processing of passive sentences and considerable education-related differences in comprehension of the passive construction. The experiment measured response time and decision accuracy of participants with high and low academic attainment using an online task that compared processing and comprehension of active and passive sentences containing verbs strongly associated with the passive and active constructions, as determined by collostructional analysis. As predicted by usage-based accounts, participants’ performance was influenced by frequency (both groups processed actives faster than passives; the low academic attainment participants also made significantly more errors on passive sentences) and lexical specificity (i.e., processing of passives was slower with verbs strongly associated with the active). Contra to proposals made by Dąbrowska and Street (2006), the results suggest that all participants have verb-specific as well as verb-general representations, but that the latter are not as entrenched in the participants with low academic attainment, resulting in less reliable performance. The results also show no evidence of a speed–accuracy trade-off, making alternative accounts of the results (e.g., those of two-stage processing models, such as Townsend & Bever, 2001) problematic.


This article appears IN Applied Psycholinguistics Vol. 35, Issue 1.

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