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Grammatical implication and anaphora as determinants of text comprehension : English as a second language Walsh, Daniel Michael


The present study seeks to assess the contribution of two aspects of linguistic competence, recognition of grammatical implication and identification of anaphoric referents, to a precisely defined measure in accord with a model that sets certain requirements for acts of text comprehension. The first part of the research instrument presents items containing one or more sentences in isolation to test understanding of twelve syntactic transformations and four types of anaphora. The second part examines comprehension of sentences within a continuous text. The criterion measure for text comprehension is defined by two equally weighted components: indication of textual locus and judgment of truth value. Sample populations include native speakers of English, Chinese speakers, and other non-native speakers learning English as a second language (E.S.L.). In each category, students at elementary, junior secondary, and senior secondary grade intervals are compared. Analysis of the data reveals a developmental trend toward augmented performance on all variables. Native speakers as a group significantly outperform E.S.L. students only on the measure of recognizing grammatical implication relations which, in conjunction with the task of identifying anaphoric referents, contributes a greater proportion of variance to criterion scores than is observed in the case of either E.S.L. sample. It is concluded that native speakers and E.S.L. students attain equal proficiency in text comprehension by means of different strategies. A comparison of the rank order of difficulty among the sixteen transformational and anaphoric types indicates that the scores of a multiethnic sample of E.S.L. students more closely approximate the pattern set by native speakers than do those of the Chinese speaking group, indicating that native language may influence performance on this sort of task. The rankings for all three groups generally support the notion that transformationally simpler structures are more easily interpreted. Regarding the components of text comprehension, native speakers perform significantly better on the task of judging the truth value of an item statement than on indicating the locus of relevant statements in the accompanying passage. E.S.L. students encounter similar difficulty with both tasks. The locus indication component contributes somewhat more variance to the criterion scores of native speakers and multiethnic E.S.L. students than to those of the Chinese speakers. It is suggested that locus indication in itself may be a practical and reliable measure of text comprehension. Some directions are offered for further research, recommendations are made for testing syntactic comprehension, and possible instructional implications arising from this and other research are discussed.

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