Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
In recent years, within research on the relationship between language and cognition, there has been growing interest in examining how language-specific features, such as Mandarin Chinese numeral classifiers (NCs), influence cognitive processing (Kuo & Sera, 2009; Srinivasan, 2010). This dissertation project aims to understand the impact of language learning on cognitive processing of categorization, inhibition, and count-mass distinction. Two experiments were conducted to investigate the extent to which potential moderator variables mediate the impact of language on the cognitive outcome measures. Experiment 1 investigated the effectiveness of implicit and explicit instruction by assessing classifier knowledge transferability with delayed testing. In contrast, Experiment 2 examined cognitive processing (i.e., categorization and individuation) as a function of classifier language experience and the context of language exposure via a web-based research design. Experiment 1 (n = 128) indicated that participants that received classifier training display transferability of classifier knowledge in an object categorization task but did not demonstrate a relative advantage of one instructional method over another (i.e., explicit vs. implicit). Findings from Experiment 2 (n = 191) showed that speakers of one and two classifier languages (i.e., Chinese and Chinese-Malay speakers) have a significantly higher classifier-based object categorization preference and significantly lower proficiency in discriminating between count and mass nouns than the control group (English speakers). The Chinese speakers relied more strongly on size to differentiate count and mass nouns. Lastly, the findings combining the groups from Experiment 1 and Experiment 2 suggested that language exposure (intensive lab-based vs. naturalistic long-term immersion) affects learner’s performance on object categorization tasks. In summary, the instructional method and time of testing and language exposure played a significant role in language learning, retention, and transferability of classifier knowledge: This study has established a research program that systematically examines the effect of the learning of Chinese numeral classifiers on learners’ cognitive performance. Understanding the interaction between the experience-based factors and the transferability of classifier knowledge advances our understanding of the dynamic experience of language learning.
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