Demystifying the Jabberwocky : a research narrative.
This piece of research analyses lexical inferencing, the
process of working out the meanings of unknown words using
context clues. Three main aspects are considered: to what
extent subjects succeed or fail in making plausible inferences
about word meaning, their feelings and attitudes
towards the process, and the techniques or strategies
which they resQrt to.
The thesis is structured as a research narrative, pre~
senting twelve studies dating from 1983 to 1989. Subjects
were adult Brazilians, reading in English as a foreign
language, and/or in their native language, Portuguese.
Adult lexical inference is shown to be more successful
than previous studies using children reading in their
native language had suggested. Evidence is presented to
suggest that subjects characteristically use~ a narrow
context of a few words on either side of the target item
in attempting lexical inference, and that this breadth of
context was sufficient for most inferences. The suggestion that there may be a vocabulary 'threshold', below which
lexical inference is impeded, is rejected. Implausible
inferences came generally either from mis-recognition of
word forms, or from ignoring wider amounts of context.
Evidence is presented to suggest that familiarity of
the underlying concept is a major variable. Subjects'
hypotheses about word meaning were mostly at an appropriate
level of specificity, and gradually refined as more
evidehce became available. There was little evidence of
over-certainty. Further variables of importance are subjects'
beliefs about what "knowing" a word is, and their
level of awareness about the lexical inference process.
A wide range of feelings (positive, negative and of
caution) were observed. No one pattern of strategy use was
firmly aS$ociated with greater lexical inference success
rates. Instead, subjects made great use of background
knowledge and lexis-based strategies and little use of
discoursal or grammatical features.