Second Language and Cognition: Conceptual Categorization of Count/Mass Nouns in English with Japanese University Students

| June 20, 2011
Title
Second Language and Cognition: Conceptual Categorization of Count/Mass Nouns in English with Japanese University Students

Keywords: Count/Mass Noun Categorization, Japanese EFL Users, Aggregates, Cognitive Individuation Hypothesis, Perceptibility

Authors
Yuko Yamashita
Kurume University, Japan
David Hirsh
University of Sydney, Australia

Bio Data
Yuko Yamashita lectures at Kurume University and is also a doctoral student at Kyushu University. She obtained an MEd in TESOL from the University of Sydney in 2008. She has taught English as a foreign language in Japan for several years. Her research interests include second language acquisition, vocabulary learning and teaching. The research reported here was done as part of her MEd TESOL studies.

David Hirsh lectures in TESOL at the University of Sydney. His research focuses on vocabulary studies, language assessment and academic acculturation. Recent publications include Teaching Academic Writing (University of Michigan Press, 2009, with Paltridge et al.) and articles in Reading in a Foreign Language and French Review of Applied Linguistics.

Abstract
This paper reports on a study designed to explore the conceptual basis of count/mass noun distinction with Japanese students. It focuses on the perceptual cues used to match pictures with count or mass noun phrases, when there is the effect of distance, size, and clarity between pairs of pictures. The study tests the cognitive individuation hypothesis in which count nouns are conceptualized as individuated things whereas mass nouns are conceptualized as non-individuated things in the mind of speakers. Participants in this study were 103 students from a university in Japan. They completed picture tasks consisting of 22 pairs of novel pictures with a phrase indicating a novel count or mass noun. The results indicate that participants relied primarily on the perceptual cue of distance and clarity to match pictures with count or mass noun phrases. They made the majority of choices consistent with the cognitive individuation hypothesis, when there were two effects (size and distance, or distance and clarity). The study provides insights into effective ways to enhance Japanese speakers’ application of conceptual knowledge when making count/mass noun distinction in English and potentially informs future studies in second language and cognition and EFL pedagogy.

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Category: Quarterly Journal, Volume 13 Issue 2