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Implicit Learning of Pragmatic Meanings: Chinese Students’ Success in Learning Social Status in a Semi-Artificial Language

This is the abstract of a TULCON14 presentation.

Xinbing Luo (Beijing Foreign Studies University)

Despite the accumulating body of studies on implicit learning of form-meaning  mappings, few of them investigated the pragmatic aspects of the mappings. In order to  fill the gap, this study explores whether Chinese students are able to implicitly learn the  social status between communicators encoded in novice verbs. A semi-artificial  language with uncanonical Chinese syntactic structures was invented, in which four  novice Chinese characters “丮”, “乇”, “乑” and “疋” were employed as target verbs. Among them, “乑” and “疋” could be used with respectful seniors, while “丮” and “乇”  with peers or inferior beings. The participants (N = 23) were first required to memorize  the pronunciations of the verbs and the uncanonical syntactic structures governed by  the verbs in given contexts, where social relations between the communicators were  different. Then, timed oral production tasks were conducted to test whether the  participants learned to use the honorific or non-honorific verbs in the contexts  appropriately. The implicitness of their learning was also judged by subjective  measurements: trial-by-trial confidence ratings and structural knowledge attributions.  The results reveal a lack of correlation between confidence and accuracy. Moreover,  the accuracy of the responses based on implicit attributions (“Guess” and “Intuition”)  is significantly above chance. It is concluded that people could unconsciously acquire  information about social status when focusing on the form of language. 

Keywords: implicit learning; pragmatic meanings; social status; semi-artificial  language