Second language learning of complex inflectional systems

Vera Kempe, Patricia J. Brooks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

This study explored learning and generalization of parts of the Russian case-marking paradigm, an inflecting-fusional system in which affixes simultaneously mark several grammatical features (case, gender, number, animacy). In Experiment 1, adult English speakers (N= 43) were exposed to nouns with transparent gender marking in the nominative case and learned to inflect nouns for two oblique cases. Experiment 2 (N= 44) used nouns that in the nominative case were morphophonologically nontransparent (i.e., arbitrary) with respect to the underlying gender categories. Learning and generalization of case-marking inflections were better in Experiment 1 than Experiment 2, but far worse than would be expected if learners had extracted the underlying rules. Measures of proficiency in other languages with transparently marked grammatical gender categories, fluid intelligence, and verbal working memory capacity were predictive of learners' performance in both experiments, although their relative impact differed somewhat depending on the transparency of the system. These findings suggest that adult learners benefit from regularity when learning morphological patterns but do not necessarily generate rules, as the complexity of morphological variation in inflecting-fusional systems inevitably requires a considerable degree of item-based learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)703-746
Number of pages44
JournalLanguage Learning
Volume54
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2008

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experiment
learning
Experiment
system
category
adult
language
Case marking
nominative case
regularity
transparency
intelligence
memory
paradigm
complexity
capacity
performance
impact
Inflection
Proficiency

Cite this

Kempe, Vera; Brooks, Patricia J. / Second language learning of complex inflectional systems.

In: Language Learning, Vol. 54, No. 4, 12.2008, p. 703-746.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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title = "Second language learning of complex inflectional systems",
abstract = "This study explored learning and generalization of parts of the Russian case-marking paradigm, an inflecting-fusional system in which affixes simultaneously mark several grammatical features (case, gender, number, animacy). In Experiment 1, adult English speakers (N= 43) were exposed to nouns with transparent gender marking in the nominative case and learned to inflect nouns for two oblique cases. Experiment 2 (N= 44) used nouns that in the nominative case were morphophonologically nontransparent (i.e., arbitrary) with respect to the underlying gender categories. Learning and generalization of case-marking inflections were better in Experiment 1 than Experiment 2, but far worse than would be expected if learners had extracted the underlying rules. Measures of proficiency in other languages with transparently marked grammatical gender categories, fluid intelligence, and verbal working memory capacity were predictive of learners' performance in both experiments, although their relative impact differed somewhat depending on the transparency of the system. These findings suggest that adult learners benefit from regularity when learning morphological patterns but do not necessarily generate rules, as the complexity of morphological variation in inflecting-fusional systems inevitably requires a considerable degree of item-based learning.",
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Second language learning of complex inflectional systems. / Kempe, Vera; Brooks, Patricia J.

In: Language Learning, Vol. 54, No. 4, 12.2008, p. 703-746.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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AU - Brooks,Patricia J.

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AB - This study explored learning and generalization of parts of the Russian case-marking paradigm, an inflecting-fusional system in which affixes simultaneously mark several grammatical features (case, gender, number, animacy). In Experiment 1, adult English speakers (N= 43) were exposed to nouns with transparent gender marking in the nominative case and learned to inflect nouns for two oblique cases. Experiment 2 (N= 44) used nouns that in the nominative case were morphophonologically nontransparent (i.e., arbitrary) with respect to the underlying gender categories. Learning and generalization of case-marking inflections were better in Experiment 1 than Experiment 2, but far worse than would be expected if learners had extracted the underlying rules. Measures of proficiency in other languages with transparently marked grammatical gender categories, fluid intelligence, and verbal working memory capacity were predictive of learners' performance in both experiments, although their relative impact differed somewhat depending on the transparency of the system. These findings suggest that adult learners benefit from regularity when learning morphological patterns but do not necessarily generate rules, as the complexity of morphological variation in inflecting-fusional systems inevitably requires a considerable degree of item-based learning.

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