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Grain Size Matters: L1 Effects in Morphological, Complexity, Accuracy, and Fluency Development

Schepps, Hillary (2014) Grain Size Matters: L1 Effects in Morphological, Complexity, Accuracy, and Fluency Development. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In second language acquisition (SLA), three constructs of complexity, accuracy, and fluency (CAF) have been isolated to evaluate learners’ language performance and development (Brumfit, 1984; R. Ellis, 2008; Skehan, 1989, 1998). However, the emergence and interaction of these subsystems over time remain debated (Housen & Kuiken, 2009). This thesis examines whether learners follow a shared developmental path in SLA (Vercellotti, 2012), whether each learner follows her own unique, idiosyncratic path (Larsen-Freeman, 2006), as well as the role of a learner’s first language (L1) in accounting for individual variation, especially in morphosyntactic accuracy (N. Ellis, 2006; Luk & Shirai, 2009). To explore these questions, this research analyzes the development of CAF in the semi-spontaneous spoken output of 30 learners of English (15 with L1 Chinese, 15 with L1 Arabic) over eight months as they progress from a low intermediate to a high intermediate level of proficiency while enrolled in an intensive English. I also consider their accuracy on six grammatical functors to examine L1 effects in morphological and syntactic development.
This research does not find a significant L1 effect in CAF development between-groups, but there is a reliable effect for the interaction between CAF and the L1, and overall, the Arabic learners have higher fluency and accuracy. Moreover, there was a significant interaction between time and gains in fluency, but only for the Chinese learners. In addition, there are clear L1 effects in grammatical functor accuracy scores, with Arabic speakers significantly more accurate than the Chinese on plural –s at both levels and on third person singular present –s at the higher level. These results suggest that the grain size of measurement matters, because between-group L1 effects are only significant on the specific accuracy measures. It follows that learners’ second language development is best operationalized by looking at global as well as specific measurements, as general measurements—too often employed in the literature—only tell a part of the story. Furthermore, this research confirms the observation that group averages tend to conceal significant individual variability (Skehan, 2009), and that L1 may not be the best grouping factor when employing global measurements.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Schepps, Hillaryhbs12@pitt.eduHBS12
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairJuffs, Alanjuffs@pitt.eduJUFFS
Committee MemberShirai, Yasuhiroyshirai@pitt.eduYSHIRAI
Committee MemberMcCormick, Dawn E.mccormic@pitt.eduMCCORMIC
Date: 22 May 2014
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 5 March 2014
Approval Date: 22 May 2014
Submission Date: 9 April 2014
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 186
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Linguistics
Degree: MA - Master of Arts
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: CAF, L1 effects, morpheme order
Date Deposited: 22 May 2014 17:46
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:19


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