Error Gravity and Perception in Written Russian

Meghan Murphy-Lee, University of Kansas

The topic of error gravity has been a popular one in second language acquisition since the 1970's. However, during this time, only Benjamin Rifkin (1995) has studied this topic in Russian. In his project, Rifkin focused on the oral language of Russian students and created a hierarchy of error gravity to help instructors of Russian understand which errors Russian speakers view as the most severe. He found that both the native and non-native speakers agree on the severity of grammatical errors such as case and verbal conjugation errors. This paper will present the results of a study on the error gravity of written Russian (email messages written by second year students to their instructor) using both native and non-native Russian speakers as judges of these data. The subjects-judges will be drawn from three groups: native Russian speakers who are language teachers, Russian native speakers who are not language teachers and non-native teachers of Russian. The subjects will be asked to judge a random selection of email messages and rate their comprehensibility on a scale of 1 to 7.

In this study I wish to investigate whether judgments on written communication differ from group to group and how these results compare to previous studies that use oral language samples. I also will calculate whether there is a statistically significant correlation between comprehensibility and certain grammatical or lexical features identified previously in the messages

I decided to ask the subjects to judge these email messages on comprehensibility in order to rate how successfully they convey meaning. I will not mention to the subject-judges specific errors present in the messages or how to rate the writing based on certain types of errors. The task is designed to be non-specific so as to determine whether specific grammatical errors affect comprehension.

One goal of this study is to observe how different readers experience non-native writing and how they judge comprehensibility. If there is a difference between the teacher and non-teacher native speakers and the non-native teacher, it could be useful to sensitize non-native teachers to the norms used by native speakers when judging non-native writing samples. In addition, the reaction of native speakers to these non-native writing samples could help instructors because the ACTFL proficiency ratings for the various skills all use the educated native speaker as the criterion against which to judge the non-native speaker. I also will present results on the correlation between comprehensibility and certain linguistic features of Russian and will compare my findings to previous research that used oral Russian samples. This study will help us better understand how both native and non-native speakers view non-native writing.


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