Investigating sociolinguistic and historical linguistic approaches to vocabulary teaching and learning in the English language classrooms of Wales

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of English Communication and Philos


This project draws together historical and socio-linguistic theories to examine if and how integrating explicit teaching of word etymology and morphology into literacy education could impact children's ability to use and comprehend complex vocabulary. Having experienced a 'vocabulary explosion' between seventeen to twenty-one months of age, primary school children should continue gaining an average of 27.9 new words every month thereafter (Dale and Fenson 1996). Despite this natural 'explosion', National Literacy Trust (2018) statistics show that 1 in 4 children do not reach the expected standard in reading or writing by the age of eleven (end of Key Stage 2). This project is a timely investigation into how linguistic awareness and in-depth word knowledge can grow with a child through their school career. The ability to cope with different levels of lexical complexity when reading, writing, spelling and speaking is not only fundamental to broader academic success, but to understanding semantic nuances in social relationships and life post-education.

Following the initial vocabulary explosion, Mitchell and McMurray (2008:1919) suggest that for word-acquisition acceleration to continue, children must read widely to be consistently exposed to 'difficult' words to expand vocabulary sizes. The Welsh National Curriculum word-lists propose to expose children to words required for both academic and everyday-life success. However, socio-linguistic studies have revealed that a child's linguistic usage is more closely related to interactions with age-related peers (Nardy et al. 2014). With just 59.2% of Welsh secondary school children achieving A* - C in English Language in the last GCSE examination period (StatsWales 2019), there is a discrepancy between the words children shouldhave acquired and what they have actuallyacquired. This project will address these inconsistencies by investigating how the complexity of the words children use in social contexts differs from the government-prescribed word-lists.

Analysis of these word-lists shows the majority of words children are supposed to know comprise terms rooted in the Latin language. However, the Welsh Curriculum does not address how educators should approach teaching word-meaning or lexical composition; the focus is entirely on vocabulary size. Past studies have shown a connection between learning Latin and increased metalinguistic awareness (Hill 2006; Hunt et al. 2005; Sparks et al. 1995), but traditionally, Latin has been a subject reserved for private and grammar school education. Furthermore, these studies investigate Latin as a standalone academic subject. They do not explore the impact of teaching multiple language etymologies and morphologies (not just Latin) as integrated topics in the English Language curriculum. This research has scope to make the proven benefits of classical language education accessible to everyone.

This project, therefore, will explore whether providing children with morphological building blocks-through explicit teaching of Latinate, Classical Greek, French and native prefixes, root words and suffixes-impacts the relationship between linguistic awareness and ability to use and comprehend unfamiliar words in the classroom and social interactions. It questions whether knowledge of word components could help children understand the complex reading, writing and spelling conventions that comprise our modern language. As such, this doctoral research project asks: How does integrating word etymology and morphology into English Language teaching impact Welsh primary school children's vocabulary usage?


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P00069X/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2268566 Studentship ES/P00069X/1 30/09/2019 30/06/2023 Ellen Louise Bristow