A study of the dimensions of morphological knowledge and their lexico-syntactic implications for second language proficiency

by San, Sheung-tai

Abstract (Summary)
(Uncorrected OCR) Abstract of thesis entitled

A study of the dimensions of morphological knowledge and their lexico-syntactic implications for second language proficiency

submitted by

SAN Sheung-tai

for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

at the University of Hong Kong in October 2001

A review of the research literature shows that the role of morphological

knowledge (MK) in L2 vocabulary, writing or overall proficiency is not widely

discussed. This thesis attempts to define the implicit, explicit, receptive and active

dimensions of MK, which is developed in the thesis as a construct that may have to

be specifically acquired and mastered by second language (L2) learners whose L1 is

non-alphabetic, such as Chinese. Learners' MK profiles may also reflect how they

acquire morphologically complex English words. This is considered to be significant

because these words, typically of classic origin, form the majority of to day's English

content words in most academic discourse and are important to academic study.

This thesis also empirically investigates the relationship between Hong Kong

Chinese learners' MK and their English proficiency, including their ability to apply

the concepts of derivational, inflectional morphemes and word formation in English

vocabulary learning, vocabulary use and sentence writing. The dimensions of MK

were incorporated into a matrix design of four empirical studies, each of which

centred on the relationship of MK to L2 proficiency or L2 vocabulary proficiency at

the word or the sentence level. A total of 191 Hong Kong tertiary and post-secondary

learners of varied English proficiency were investigated. It was found that their

understanding of morphological concepts such as morphemes, affixations, roots, verb forms and word-class patterns, was less than complete, although higherproficiency learners tended to have better MK than lower-proficiency ones. The correlation between MK and proficiency was shown to be robust across subjects of different proficiency levels in the four studies. In addition, MK was found to correlate significantly with receptive and active vocabulary ability, writing accuracy as well as vocabulary use in writing.

These findings raise the important question of whether intra-word understanding of morphemes and concepts of word formation are an essential part of learners' vocabulary and grammatical development. Tentative explanations of the results are given in the discussion chapter, which addresses theoretical and pedagogic issues such as lexical processing behaviour, L 1- L2 difference, vocabulary learning strategy, code-mixing, and the Hong Kong language environment. The thesis posits that a fuller, earlier knowledge of morphology should facilitate the learning of English academic vocabulary and related syntactic rules, in terms of better organization, internalization, processing and economy.

Bibliographical Information:


School:The University of Hong Kong

School Location:China - Hong Kong SAR

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:second language acquisition grammar comparative and general morphology high school students china hong kong college


Date of Publication:01/01/2002

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