Culture-specific typicality judgments and assessment of foreign language acquisition

Power, Michael A.
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There nave been consistent findings in first language research that category exemplars which are seen as more typical - better examples of a category - play a special role in many facets of language development and use. The present research was undertaken to extend these findings to the field of foreign language learning. Specifically, two main questions were addressed. 1) Does the model of categories currently used to describe western cultures apply also to a non-western culture? 2) Are the results of English as a foreign language (EFL) proficiency assessment influenced by the typicality (as perceived by the members of the testees' culture e) of the category examples used in the assessment instruments? To answer the first question, two tasks -- a category elicitation task and a typicality rating task -- were administered to Japanese elementary school children in Japan. The children found the tasks meaningful, and there was consistency among their responses on both tasks, supporting the notion that the typicality dimension of toe category model may be universal. Subsequently, a test of English proficiency was constructed using items containing category members judged either typical or atypical by the elementary school children. As anticipate the Japanese high school students who took the test performed significantly better on the items containing the typical exemplars. However, tile mean difference between the item types was small. An additional study was conducted to investigate the possibility that differences in typicality perceptions between the elementary and the high school students could have influenced the magnitude of toe typicality effect. Upon comparison of the typicality Judgments of both groups, it was found that although the relative rankings of category exemplars were closely related across the age groups, in general the older students saw all the exemplars as more typical. It is proposed therefore that the typicality effect would be even stronger at lower grades. Finally, existing Japanese EFL materials were examined to determine the extent to which they reflect Japanese typicality perceptions. It was found that the materials do not systematically present typical exemplars, but instead adhere more closely to American frequency norms for written English. Based on the results of these studies, it is suggested that inclusion of typical category exemplars in foreign language materials would be facilitative of not only more accurate assessment of proficiency, but perhaps of initial acquisition of the language as well. Further, it. is proposed that future investigations into the role of typicality be expanded to include a wide range of aspects of foreign language acquisition and use.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1987.
Bibliography: leaves 88-93.
xii, 159 leaves, bound ill. 29 cm
Cognition and culture, Learning, Psychology of, English language -- Study and teaching -- Japanese speakers
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