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An exploratory study of the hypothesis of divisible versus unitary competence in second language proficiency

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Title: An exploratory study of the hypothesis of divisible versus unitary competence in second language proficiency
Author: Barbour, Ross Patrick
Degree Master of Arts - MA
Program Education
Copyright Date: 1983
Abstract: In this research Oiler's question 'Is language proficiency divisible into components?' was explored by determining which of three models best fit the experimental data: a model postulating numerous specific sources of variance (the extreme divisible model), a model postulating a single, large source of variance (the unitary model), or a model postulating a large general factor and several smaller specific factors. Following analysis of data gathered in a preliminary study, four tests which had clearly recognizable contrasts in content (grammar vs. vocabulary) and mode (listening vs. reading) were constructed to identify linguistic and method variance in a correlation matrix of language proficiency variables. These four measures were pilot tested, revised, and administered in conjunction with eight other language measures to a group of beginning-level ESL learners. The data were factor analyzed using image analysis to explore the relative congruency of the three models to the data. In addition, the relationships between the tests and the demographic variables age, sex, length of time in English Canada, and first language were also investigated. In the factor analysis, both of the methods used to determine the number of factors to be retained in the final solution indicated three. (The methods used were the Kaiser-Guttman criterion of selecting factors with eigen values greater than one in a principal components analysis and the inspection of a varimax rotation of a full image analysis to determine the first factor with negligible coefficients.) When transformed using a Harris-Kaiser oblique transformation (Independent Clusters), the data presented evidence for a grammar factor, a vocabulary factor and an age-related factor which may be linked closely to the hearing ability of the students. In addition, the analyses suggested the possibility that a listening-mode factor and what I have termed a 'speed of processing factor' were also influencing the variables. The factors, however, were highly correlated, suggesting the presence of a strong general factor underlying all of the measures. The analyses of the specific relationships between each of four demographic variables (age, sex, first language, and the length of time the subject had been in Canada) and each of the twelve language variables revealed a strong negative correlation between the language measures and two of the demographic variables, age and length of time in Canada. In addition, this set of analyses revealed that the Chinese as a group performed differently than non-Chinese as a group. The analysis of sex produced no significant findings. The conclusion of the study was that the language proficiency data in this study was best modelled by a large general factor and two specific, content-related factors, grammar and vocabulary. The possibility of specific factors related to mode was not ruled out.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/24192
Series/Report no. UBC Retrospective Theses Digitization Project [http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/retro_theses/]
Scholarly Level: Graduate

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