The influence of word structure on the type of strategy used by 6th graders to infer new word meaning: Comparison of morphological analysis and contextual inference

The influence of word structure on the type of strategy used by 6th graders to infer new word meaning: Comparison of morphological analysis and contextual inference

First Author: Pauline Quémart -- University of Poitiers
Additional authors/chairs: 
Louise Chaussoy; Eric Lambert; Anna Potocki
Keywords: vocabulary learning, Morphological processing, Comprehension
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose. We examined the influence of morphological information and the semantic context of a sentence on 6th graders’ comprehension of new words. We were interested in the way students adjust the type of strategy they use to infer the meaning of new words as a function of the structure of these words: morphologically simple or complex.

Method -Thirty 6th graders (mean age = 11;10) chose the definition of twelve morphologically simple words and 12 morphologically complex words, all of very low frequency. First, the participants had to choose the definition of these words from 3 proposals. Second, they had to choose the definition of these same words but after reading a short text allowing to infer the definition.

Results - The percentage of correctly chosen definitions was higher for complex words compared to simple words in the first task (i.e. words presented without context) but not in the second task (i.e. words presented in context). Moreover, only morphologically simple words were better defined when presented in context rather than in isolation.

Conclusion – Sixth graders are better at inferring the definition of new words when they are morphologically complex than when they are simple. This result shows the importance of awareness of the morphological structure of words in vocabulary acquisition. A different strategy emerges for morphologically simple words: Their comprehension benefits from being presented in the context of a sentence. This study shows that 6th graders use different strategies depending on the structure of words they are exposed to.