An experiment conducted as part of a research project on the Chamorro language revealed that its speakers have “incremental” comprehension of the language, according to Dr. Matthew Wagers.
A linguistics professor at the University of California Santa Cruz, Wagers was part of a team that conducted last summer an experiment that aims to “bring more linguistic data” in the study of how Chamorro speakers understand the language.
Wagers, along with Dr. Sandra Chung and Manuel F. Borja, shared their findings during a presentation sponsored by the NMI Council for the Humanities at the American Memorial Park Tuesday night.
Wagers said the experiment, which sought the speakers' comprehension of different versions of a sentence, involved working with 100 speakers of the Chamorro language between the ages of 20 to 70 from the islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
The experiment involved two versions in determining whether a series of sentences are good or bad: having the participants listen to sentences played on headphones and reading the sentences in a laptop with a webcam turned on.
The incremental comprehension was determined in the second version, wherein the webcam records where the speaker's eyes are while reading the sentences, which is then used to assemble a record of what the speaker is thinking as the sentences unfold in time.
Incremental comprehension, Wagers explained, means that the speaker puts together the meaning of the sentence “almost as quickly as you hear the words and access their meaning.”
“You don't wait until the end of the sentence to understand it,” he told his audience. “You assess a good idea of what the speaker intends to say to you almost as quickly at they can say it to you.”
According to Wagers, this is the first real time incremental comprehension unfolding in that millisecond of time that the comprehension process unfolds for any Austronesian language, including other languages in the Pacific.
On the other hand, the first version of the experiment revealed that there is an age-related variation in the community when it comes to understanding sentences. Wagers said that simple sentences are easily understood by speakers young and old alike, while complicated sentences were only identified by speakers who are 55 years or older.
The results of the experiment, Wagers said, can be put into practical use such as in the revision efforts in the Chamorro Dictionary, which is interconnected to the research project.
Wagers disclosed that another experiment is in the offing to help the study of the comprehension of the Chamorro language.
“We hope to keep doing it and we're really interested in getting your feedback and ideas on where the research should be going,” he added.