UNIVERSITY OF JYVÄSKYLÄ UNDERSTANDING ENGLISH WORD FORMATION A study among 6 th -grade pupils in Finnish comprehensive school A Pro Gradu Thesis in English by Leena Nyyssönen Department of Languages 2008

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UNIVERSITY OF JYVÄSKYLÄ UNDERSTANDING ENGLISH WORD FORMATION A study among 6 th -grade pupils in Finnish comprehensive school A Pro Gradu Thesis in English by Leena Nyyssönen Department of Languages 2008 HUMANISTINEN TIEDEKUNTA KIELTEN LAITOS Leena Nyyssönen UNDERSTANDING ENGLISH WORD FORMATION A study among 6 th -grade pupils in Finnish comprehensive school Pro Gradu tutkielma Englannin kieli Huhtikuu sivua + 4 liitettä Tutkielman tarkoituksena oli selvittää 6.-luokkalaisten kykyä ymmärtää englannin kielen sananmuodostusta, sekä heidän mahdollisuuksiaan hyötyä sananmuodostuksen opetuksesta jo kieliopintojen alkamisvaiheessa alakoulussa. Materiaalina käytettiin 3-osaista koko tutkimusryhmälle laadittua sananmuodostukseen keskittyvää testiä, ja lisäksi kahdella oppilaalla teetettyä sananmuodostustehtävää, joka nauhoitettiin. Tutkimuksen päähypoteesit olivat: 1) Englannin kielen sananmuodostuksen perusteita olisi hyödyllistä opettaa jo nuorille kielenopiskelijoille, sillä sanavaraston kasvattaminen helpottaisi myöhempiä kieliopintoja. 2) Osalla kuudesluokkalaisista ei ehkä ole vielä kypsyyttä ja kykyä ymmärtää ja omaksua vieraan kielen rakenteita ja sananmuodostusta. Tutkimuksen perusteena oli nykyisen oppimateriaalin niukkuus sananmuodostuksen kannalta, ja etenkin heikompien oppijoiden suppea sanavarasto, jonka kehittämiseen tulisi panostaa jo aikaisessa vaiheessa. Tutkimus oli kvantitatiivinen testin osalta ja kuvaileva nauhoitetun tehtävän osalta. Tutkimuksessa esiteltiin englannin kielen keskeiset sananmuodostusmenetelmät sekä luotiin katsaus englannin kielen sanaston oppimiseen ja opetukseen. Testituloksien perusteella todettiin, että kuudesluokkalaisten oppijoiden sananmuodostuksen tuntemus oli ymmärrettävästi heikkoa. Testiosioittain havaittiin oppilaiden pystyvän sanatasolla tuottamaan joitakin derivaatioita, kun taas keksityn kielen osiossa tulos oli erittäin heikko, ja voitiinkin todeta, etteivät oppilaat vielä tunne affikseja eivätkä näin ollen pysty niiden avulla tuottamaan uusia sanoja. Kun oppilaille annettiin malliaffikseja, he onnistuivat tiedon, yrityksen ja arvauksen avulla jonkin verran paremmin. Paritehtävässä havaittiin, että englannin kielessä hyvin menestyvät oppilaat ymmärsivät kohtalaisesti sananmuodostuksen periaatteita. He pystyivät myös päättelemään sanojen ja affiksien merkityksiä, osittain harrastuneisuutensa vuoksi. Yleisesti ottaen tutkimustulokset viittasivat siihen, että ylempää keskitasoa olevien oppilaiden kyky ymmärtää englannin kielen rakenteita ja sananmuodostusta on jonkin verran kehittynyt. Voidaan päätellä sananmuodostuksen opettamisen jo alakoulussa olevan perusteltua paitsi lahjakkaille, myös heikommille oppilaille, oppimisen helpottamiseksi jatkossa. Mahdollinen jatkotutkimus voisi selvittää, mikä oppilaiden tulostaso olisi, ja kasvaisiko heidän sanavarastonsa merkittävästi sananmuodostuksen opettamisen ansiosta. Asiasanat: word formation, vocabulary learning, vocabulary teaching, learner strategies TABLE OF CONTENTS 1 INTRODUCTION WORD FORMATION IN ENGLISH The inflectional method Conversion and back-formation Compounding The derivational method Prefixes Infixes Suffixes VOCABULARY LEARNING AND TEACHING Vocabulary learning Individual differences in language learning success and their implications on vocabulary Receptive and productive learning Breadth and depth of vocabulary knowledge Inferencing, mnemonic techniques and derivation as language learning strategies Vocabulary teaching The teacher s facilitating role How to avoid unteaching Word formation in vocabulary learning and teaching DATA AND METHOD The data Data gathering The method Evaluation of the tests RESULTS Test results Test A Test B Test C... 48 The recorded test DISCUSSION Test results Test A Test B Test C Individual answering strategies The recorded test School environment and word formation CONCLUSION BIBLIOGRAPHY APPENDICES... 72 List of Tables Table 1 English nouns, adjectives and verbs showing inflectional contrasts Table 2 Minimum and maximum points scored and the means from parts A, B, and C Table 3 Male and female pupils average test scores in tests A, B, C, and all combined...44 Table 4 The test results for the groups divided by English numbers...44 Table 5 Correlations between scores in tests A, B, and C...45 6 1 INTRODUCTION There seems to reign a consensus about how important word formation processes are in the widening of the lexicon in English as well as the necessity of explicit instruction of derivation in L2 learning. Though the claim for attention to this particular part of vocabulary learning has long been expressed (Nation 1990), there are still few studies on how the acquisition of affixation proceeds and how special attention to word formation would and should affect L2 learning and teaching (Schmitt and Zimmerman 2002, 163). Numerous studies have been conducted on L1 vocabulary acquisition but the few dealing with L2 vocabulary are mainly concerned with university students, not with younger language learners. It is therefore the main aim of the present study to examine the current knowledge of word formation in English among 6 th -grade pupils in comprehensive school based on the assumption that if the processes of derivation in particular were taught at school, specially in the lower grades, at least some proportion of the pupils would benefit by it. Schmitt and Meara (1997, cited in Mochizuki and Aizawa 2000: 292) assume that a high suffix knowledge entails a wider vocabulary. Verhoeven and Carlisle (2006: 645) refer to L1 acquisition when they raise the evident question about the role of morphological knowledge in reading development, as complex words keep growing in number when the learner progresses through the upper grades. Is the same question not worth asking with regard to L2 acquisition, not solely when reading skills are considered but when we think of the overall widening of views in the L2 classroom? The aboveaverage pupils can be expected to have developed some knowledge of English structures, partly due to a problem-free understanding of their L1, but my presumption is that it could also be beneficial for the less advanced pupils to know the basics of word formation, if only to facilitate the use of help material, such as dictionaries or simply to facilitate the recognition of words in context. In my opinion the current teaching materials for English at our disposal more or less ignore the word building processes, offering only a narrow sample of derivatives let alone any exercises or additional knowledge on the matter. I shall therefore bring the school environment with its materials into the discussion at the end of this paper. 7 In my work I shall present the basics of word formation in the English language in chapter 2, shedding some light on the various word building processes that are used to expand the lexicon, also briefly touching concepts such as borrowing, although mostly concentrating on derivational word building processes. My account of word formation in English is largely based on books by Katamba (2005) and Jackson and Amvela (2007) both of which offer a clear and thorough presentation of the word building processes, in addition to V. Adams (2001) who presents a more detailed analysis of affixes, and can be recommended as a versatile source of examples. This study is concerned with young L2 learners and their ability to grasp the mechanisms of word formation at their current stage of learning. The aim is to demonstrate how well a homogenous group of 6 th -graders managed in a word formation test consisting of largely unfamiliar material, and to contemplate whether it would be beneficial at such a stage to include some instruction on the subject of word building in the curriculum. It is consequently essential to the present study to include an overview of how vocabulary is learned, how it is taught and how and to what extent word formation is included in the current L2 learning. Nation (1990) is an indispensable reference book on second language learning and teaching, containing valuable background material as well as being a practical guide book for the language teacher. I have consulted Nation extensively on matters concerning e.g. learning strategies and vocabulary teaching. These topics will be covered in chapter 3. As to other source material, articles by Schmitt and Zimmerman (2002) and Mochizuki and Aizawa (2000) focus on vocabulary learning with specific focus on derivation, having thus greatly contributed to the present study. Both quantitative and qualitative approaches were used in acquiring the data. First, a three-part test with gap-filling tasks for 56 pupils was conducted and run by a computer for analysis. Two days later a think-aloud task was arranged for two boys from the test group. Their task was recorded and afterwards analysed qualitatively. The aim of the first part (A) of the test was to find out whether pupils could create new words if given a clue both in English and in Finnish, a task where their existing vocabulary might have been of assistance. The second part (B) introduced made up words that were not proper English and thus unknown to the pupils. With just the stem in context and an explanation of the required word as clues, this part focused on the real understanding of affixation, ie whether the pupils knew any affixes at all. To 8 what extent the pupils could either by knowledge or guessing add the appropriate affixes to words and understand the differences in their meaning was the aim of part C, where the participants also received a list of the affixes needed to complete the task. The justification of the additional part of the study, ie the think-aloud, was to be able to record the strategies two above-average pupils might have at their disposal when trying to accomplish a word building task, creating new forms from stems and affixes. The think-aloud task attempted to find out what goes on in their minds. The data and method of this study are introduced in detail in chapter 4, and the results offered in the following chapter. I shall discuss the results of the testing in chapter 6, expecting to find out whether some 6 th -grade pupils seem to understand the basics of word formation, and how the results could support my initial claim that even young L2 learners should receive some guidance on the word building processes and undoubtedly benefit from it. In conclusion I shall look beyond the current situation and make a few suggestions as to new studies in the area of extending vocabulary size and knowledge by learning about word formation. As the different word formation processes in the English language are central to my study and pertain to my goals of showing how much or little the pupils know about these processes I shall now move on to discuss word formation and the multitude of word formation methods. First, a brief glance at lexicology and the definitions of word before offering a more thorough description on how words are formed through various processes like the inflectional and derivational methods. As derivation and compounding account for the great majority of word-formational patterns (V. Adams 2001: 2), and as the derivational method is of major importance in my research, it deserves special emphasis in the chapters to follow. 2 WORD FORMATION IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE Basically, the English language receives its new lexical items by internal creative processes such as compounding and derivation. However, borrowing from other languages has always been a significant means of expanding the lexicon. Katamba (2005: 135) reports there has been extensive borrowing from over 120 languages, 9 and sometimes the etymology of a word can be traced back through several languages, chess being an example of an originally Persian word that came to the English language by way of Arabic and French. Latin and French words have been widely borrowed, leading to a particular characteristic in modern English where sets of three words, slightly varied in style, can express the same idea, e.g. ask, question and interrogate, representing a colloquial (Old English), more literary (French) and more learned (Latin) word. Nation (1990: 18) states that most low-frequency words come to English from Latin, Greek, and French. (For more examples of borrowings from other languages, see Jackson and Amvela 2007:24-50.) Although marginal word building processes need not concern this study, some are nevertheless worth mentioning. Jackson and Amvela (2007: 51) add root creation, echoic words and ejaculations to the list of word building methods in modern English. Root creation can be considered a rare process as very few words have ever been coined this way, ie by creating a word with no connection with any existing word. Kodak, invented by George Eastman is one example. Echoic words imitate the sound they represent, and are either imitative (meow, moo) or symbolic (flip, flop). Also called natural utterances, ejaculations have become expressions used in response to emotional situations, for instance phew as a reaction to a narrow escape from a dire situation, or uh-huh as a sign of agreement. What is of primary interest here are the more traditional processes having to do with the widening of the lexicon by creating new lexical items in the English language. Understanding what is meant by word formation includes knowledge of how a word is constructed as well as knowing how words function in a language, e.g. knowing how free and bound morphemes work in word building processes, the difference between so-called content words and function words, and the rules according to which the creation of new lexical items becomes possible. Jackson and Amvela (2007: 81) point out that studying word formation processes consists of examining the devices that exist in the English language which enable us to create novel words on the basis of those already in existence. Understanding word formation leads to a deeper knowledge of the word types in English and their analysis. We can chop complex lexical words into their constituent parts as well as the other way around: we identify complex words by their parts, e.g. the affixes. The thing to keep in mind is the fact that all affix-resembling parts of words are, in fact, not affixes at all and 10 can be identified as such only if the remainder of the word can be identified as a morpheme. If we consider the suffixes ance and ment, for example, it is easy to see that they can be added to disturb and pay respectively as suffixes but in some cases the similar ending cannot be classified as a suffix, as in dance and comment. Before moving on to a closer examination of the multiple word formation processes, let us briefly consider the field of study called lexicology and the definition of word. Lexicology, the study of lexis, is closely linked to other fields of study such as phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, etymology, and lexicography (Jackson and Amvela 2007: 2, 23). What is relevant to the present study is the connection between lexicology and morphology. The following presentation of how words are constructed lays the ground for the discussion on the productivity of different word formation processes, particularly the derivational method. Katamba (2005: 15-44) states that while words are seen as the smallest meaningful units of language, they can in turn be severed into even smaller parts (morphemes) which are equally meaningful or serve a grammatical function in a language. For instance the word unsafe consists of the vocabulary item safe as well as the prefix un, containing the meaning not safe, just as the word mended consists of the word mend and the grammatical function past, ie -ed. Morphemes are free or bound, according to whether they can occur on their own or solely combined with other morphemes. Child in childish is able to occur by itself while ish in the same lexical item cannot. Free morphemes are mostly so-called content words - nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs which contain the main referential meaning of a sentence - or function words which fill a grammatical function, such as the articles a/an and the, or the personal pronouns I, you, he etc. The basic meaning of a word is carried by the stem which, if formed by a single morpheme is called a root or base, and to which affixes are added (Jackson and Amvela 2007: 81). According to Katamba (2005: 15-44) morphemes possess a relatively stable meaning or function present in not just a few but thousands of words. Re- means to do again the action denoted by the verb and as such attaches to a various number of verbs whilst maintaining the same meaning (rerun, rewrite, rebuild). The construction of words by the morphological rules of word formation is precisely what the present study is about. The results of the tests will show how much the 6 th - 11 grade students understand of this process, and the discussion will suggest further research on derivation and the need for guidance in word formation processes on the lower levels of language education. We build words using morphemes and the knowledge of how they work to form new lexical items helps us to identify and figure out the meaning of even unfamiliar words by their constituent parts, claims Katamba (2005: 31). An English teacher can readily agree with such a statement, as the importance of vocabulary knowledge cannot be underestimated in language learning and teaching. In the following chapters I shall discuss the word formation processes in English, starting with a brief account of the inflectional method, and introducing the basics of compounding, as well as other important ways of building new lexical items, such as conversion and back-formation. What is of interest here is the multitude of classification systems used for word formation processes by different researchers. Katamba (2005: 54) divides word formation first into inflection and derivation, and considers affixation, conversion, stress placement and compounding as the main forms of derivation, however he then proceeds to explain how other linguists would understand derivation as the creating of new words by affixation and thus separate from compounding which combines two bases to form a new complex word. (For an account of other word-formation methods outside derivation, see Katamba 2005: ) Jackson and Amvela (2007: 99) rely on a slightly different categorization of the phenomenon. Their basic division is three-fold: inflection, derivation and compounding. Apart from these methods they discuss conversion, blends and shortenings as additional processes. V. Adams (2001: 2) emphasizes the importance of derivation and compounding as the main word-building methods in the English language, adding backformation, blending and shortening on the list of processes worth mentioning. The derivational process will be specially focused on below, being the most productive method of building new words in English and the main point of interest in the present study. The inflectional method Before moving on to the word formation processes in English let us first take a quick look at the inflectional method, which is not strictly speaking considered a word formation process but rather a grammatical one. Jackson and Amvela (2007: 82) explain that by the inflectional process alternative grammatical forms are produced by adding affixes to words. In English these are always suffixes. For example, the plural morpheme s and the comparative inflection er when added to nouns and adjectives respectively do not give a completely new word but a variant of the same word, for instance roses and colder. Inflection is then compared to the derivational process which gives birth to new lexical items by the addition of a derivational affix to already existing word stems, as adding the suffi
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