Author(s): Wright C
Abstract: Recent findings have found a robust connection between greater working memory (WM) capacity and rapid, successful acquisition of L2 vocabulary, reading and oral fluency (Service 1992, Harrington and Sawyer 1992, Fortkamp 1999). This study adds to the growing body of research by investigating correlations between WM and variation in grammatical development, focusing on asymmetries in processing L2 English wh-constructions in an immersion setting. The present research used an innovative story recall task, using both L1 and L2, to test the concept of the episodic buffer in the latest model of WM (Baddeley 2000). The longitudinal development of wh-constructions using timed grammaticality judgement data was tracked in thirty-two instructed advanced level Chinese speakers of English during a year’s postgraduate study at universities in the UK. Asymmetries were compared between short movement and long movement including subjacency violations in the reaction time (RT) task. Significant positive correlations were found between Story Recall in L1 and greater accuracy on subjacency judgements (r=.40, p<.01), but not on other types of wh-constructions. There is thus some support for the hypothesis that greater WM aids grammatical processing. However, significant longitudinal improvements were only found in faster RT speeds, with no longitudinal change found on RT accuracy scores. The study concludes that immersion for less than a year appears to facilitate existing grammatical knowledge rather than trigger acquisition of new grammatical knowledge, even for those with greater WM.