Question constructions, argument mapping, and vocabulary development in English L2 by Japanese speakers

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This study investigates the relationship between vocabulary size (Nation and Beglar 2007) and syntactic learning in English as a second language (ESL) using the framework of Processability Theory (PT, Pienemann 1998, Pienemann et al. 2005). In particular, the study focuses on the syntactic development of question sentences and argument mapping in conjunction with the learner’s current vocabulary size. Nine adult Japanese L1-English L2 speakers in Australia were selected out of a total sample of 22 who sat for the vocabulary size test, three each from Top, Middle and Low vocabulary sizes, to perform two language production tasks: (1) a ‘spot the differences’ task, used for speech profiling and (2) a translation task involving a range of verb categories including unaccusative verbs, psych verbs, as well as passive and causative constructions. The linguistic production of each informant was analysed against PT syntactic stages (Bettoni & Di Biase, 2015) in question sentences and argument mapping. Results suggest that vocabulary and syntactic development progress hand-in-hand. However Low and Mid vocabulary size ESL learners have problems in specific areas of syntax. High vocabulary learners, on the other hand, were able to cope with the whole range of verbs and syntactic constructions investigated in this study. Question sentences and argument mapping were found to be key indicators of ESL learners’ syntactic development. The broad goal of this investigation is to promote intermediate-advanced learners in ESL.


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