Research Mentor(s): Julie Boland, Professor
Research Mentor School/College/Department: Psychology, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
Presentation Date: Thursday, April 22, 2021
Session: Session 1 (10am-10:50am)
Breakout Room: Room 4
This study investigated the extent to which American English speakers can learn the grammatically correct usages of syntactic constructions in regional dialects of standard American English (SAE) through exposure. Previous studies have been conducted on whether or not the correct formulation of regional constructions can be learned through exposure (Kaschak & Glenberg, 2004), but the results were inconclusive, as it was unclear whether participants were learning the constructions or simply adjusting to the unfamiliarity of the sentence structures. This study aimed to better evaluate participants’ learning of regional syntax through exposure. Two syntactic constructions from regional dialects were studied: double modal (“I might could do that”), and “needs V-ed” (“The dishes need washed”). Participants were undergraduate students at the University of Michigan enrolled in an introductory psychology course. Each participant completed the study online while being monitored by a researcher over Zoom. Participants in experimental groups were exposed to sentences using their respective groups’ syntactic constructions, and participants in control groups were exposed to similar sentences in SAE. Reading times were recorded to provide data on the initial training phase. All participants then read a variety of sentences, including both grammatically correct and incorrect sentences with each regional syntactic construction and in SAE, and evaluated their grammatical acceptability, serving as the generalization phase. Results indicated that participants in the experimental groups did not learn the correct usages of the constructions, rather they simply adjusted to the unfamiliarity of the sentence structures, so the null hypothesis was not rejected. These results imply that, to learn a regional dialect of one’s native language, one must use methods more engaging than mere exposure.