• Bricks or mortar: which parts of the input does a second language listener rely on?

      Field, John (TESOL, 2008-09)
      There is considerable evidence from psycholinguistics that first language listeners handle function words differently from content words. This makes intuitive sense because content words require the listener to access a lexical meaning representation whereas function words do not. A separate channel of processing for functors would enable them to be detected faster. The question is of importance to our understanding of second language (L2) listening. Because what is extracted from the input by L2 listeners is generally less than complete, it is useful for the instructor to know which parts of the signal they are likely to recognize, and which parts are likely to be lost to them. On the one hand, L2 listeners might rely heavily on function words because high frequency renders them familiar. On the other, they might have difficulty identifying function words confidently within a piece of connected speech because functors in English are usually brief and of low perceptual prominence. The current study investigated intake by intermediate-level L2 listeners to establish whether function or content words are processed more accurately and reported more frequently. It found that the recognition of functors fell significantly behind that of lexical words. The finding was remarkably robust across first languages and across levels of proficiency, suggesting that it may reflect the way in which L2 listeners choose to distribute their attention.