Psycholinguistic Chunking during the Development of Disciplinary Literacy

Project Number
SUG 19/15 CGG

Project Duration
May 2016 - September 2017


The goal of this project is to test the hypothesis that as a student develops their disciplinary literacy, they develop psycholinguistic processing ease via chunking recurrent word sequences key to their discipline. Existing research on language-general high frequency n-grams has produced evidence that such sequences are processed faster (i.e. read faster) than similar length word sequences and stored as units in long term memory. The theoretical explanation for faster processing is that working memory repeatedly encounters such sequences and creates a psycholinguistic chunk from the individual items in a sequence, so as to increase the efficiency of cognitive processing. Each academic discipline has its own defining high frequency n-grams; consider intuitively the more frequent use of ‘student centred’ in education, ‘free market’ in economics and so forth. It is unlikely that the cognitive resting activation for these patterns are comparable amongst those who have developed academic expertise in an a subject discipline. This is what the experiment aims to study, in a battery of psycholinguistic tests including lexical decisions, and self-paced reading psycholinguistics experiments.

Funding Source

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