The Role of Frequency in Implicit Learning of a Second Language

  • Nadiia Denhovska

Student thesis: Phd


The present dissertation explored the acquisition of grammatical knowledge in L2 by adults. The main focus was to investigate the role of type and token frequency in knowledge acquisition under incidental learning conditions. Such impact was studied by using different experimental conditions, in which items were presented with high or low type and token frequency during training. The mediating effect of working memory in such learning conditions was also measured.The material for the study was a natural language (Russian), as opposed to the previous research having used mainly artificial or semi-artificial languages.Within the course of four experiments native speakers of English with no previous knowledge of a Slavic language were exposed to noun-adjective agreement patterns of different complexity. A simple noun-adjective agreement pattern according to gender was used in Experiment 1. A medium-complexity pattern, according to gender and case, was chosen in Experiment 2. And a complex noun-adjective agreement pattern, according to gender, case and number, was used in Experiment 3. Experiment 4 employed the same agreement pattern as in Experiment 2; animacy effects were also studied by selecting animate and inanimate head nouns as stimuli. The knowledge acquired was tested both in comprehension and production domains. Working memory was measured using the Operation and Reading span tests.The results supported a "starting small" approach for production; accuracy was greater in the low type low token frequency and low type high token frequency conditions. For comprehension, high type frequency had shown more effect. Working memory was differentially involved in the production of acquired knowledge in different conditions and not engaged where learning was facilitated by frequency. Levels of knowledge also depended on the complexity of the agreement pattern, frequency effects and the domain of knowledge acquisition: comprehension versus production.
Date of Award1 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJohn Payne (Supervisor) & Ludovica Serratrice (Supervisor)


  • implicit learning, frequency, working memory, L2 grammar learning
  • language acquisition

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