Dissertation Defence Tessa Spätgens

Developing semantic networks: Individual differences in Dutch monolingual and bilingual children’s semantic knowledge and reading comprehension

20June2018 12:00


On 20 June next, Tessa Spätgens will defend her doctoral thesis, for a short abstract see below.


The acquisition of vocabulary knowledge entails more than simply extending vocabulary size. In this dissertation, three other aspects of word knowledge were studied: firstly, semantic access, or the speed with which words’ semantic representations are retrieved; secondly, the structure of individuals’ semantic networks, i.e. the relative prominence of different types of semantic relations represented within these networks; and thirdly, the amount of priming, i.e. automatic activation, of these semantic relations. For each of these vocabulary aspects, the contribution to individual differences in reading comprehension was assessed. Additionally, differences between monolingual and bilingual minority children were studied.

Three empirical studies – word association and single-word and sentence-level semantic priming – showed limited significant differences between monolinguals and bilinguals. On the focal vocabulary aspects and most other tasks including reading comprehension, the bilingual minority children appeared to mostly perform similarly to their monolingual peers. The predictive value of the vocabulary measures for individual differences in reading comprehension also appeared limited: although significant contributions of certain associative preferences could be identified, semantic access and priming showed no significant influence on reading comprehension.


prof. dr. J. J. M. Schoonen, Radboud Universiteit, prof. dr. J. H. Hulstijn, UvA / ACLC

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