Lexically specific knowledge and individual differences in adult native speakers’ processing of the English passive

Street, James and Dabrowska, Ewa (2014) Lexically specific knowledge and individual differences in adult native speakers’ processing of the English passive. Applied Psycholinguistics, 35 (1). pp. 97-118. ISSN 0142-7164

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0142716412000367


This article provides experimental evidence for the role of lexically specific representations in the processing of passive sentences and considerable education-related differences in comprehension of the passive construction. The experiment measured response time and decision accuracy of participants with high and low academic attainment using an online task that compared processing and comprehension of active and passive sentences containing verbs strongly associated with the passive and active constructions, as determined by collostructional analysis. As predicted by usage-based accounts, participants’ performance was influenced by frequency (both groups processed actives faster than passives; the low academic attainment participants also made significantly more errors on passive sentences) and lexical specificity (i.e., processing of passives was slower with verbs strongly associated with the active). Contra to proposals made by Dąbrowska and Street (2006), the results suggest that all participants have verb-specific as well as verb-general representations, but that the latter are not as entrenched in the participants with low academic attainment, resulting in less reliable performance. The results also show no evidence of a speed–accuracy trade-off, making alternative accounts of the results (e.g., those of two-stage processing models, such as Townsend & Bever, 2001) problematic.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: Q100 Linguistics
Q300 English studies
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Humanities
Depositing User: Ellen Cole
Date Deposited: 26 Jul 2013 11:29
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2023 14:32
URI: https://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/13287

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