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Applied Linguistics Review

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Achieving epistemic alignment in a psycholinguistic experiment

Kyoko Kobayashi Hillman
  • School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, 3215 Jimenez Hall, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA
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/ Steven J. Ross
  • School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, 3215 Jimenez Hall, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA
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/ Gabriele Kasper
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  • Department of Second Language Studies, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, 1890 East West Road, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA
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Published Online: 2017-05-18 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0021


A critical condition for obtaining valid data in a psycholinguistic experiment is that the participants understand how to perform the experimental tasks. Participants usually are not familiar with the organization and requirements of the experiment and are therefore given instruction and often practice opportunities prior to the actual test trials. Pre-experimental instruction is a regular component of the experimental set-up, yet no research exists on how the activity is organized with a view to its purpose in the research context and as the experimenter’s and participant’s joint interactional project. This case study is the first to begin to fill the gap. The instruction in focus aimed at preparing the participant to take part in a reaction time experiment designed to measure the implicit grammatical knowledge of L2 speakers of English. Building on ethnomethodological and conversation-analytic research on instruction delivery and understanding displays in different settings, the analysis reveals how in the course of the instruction the asymmetric epistemic statuses (Heritage 2012) of researcher and participant were incrementally aligned as they collaboratively accomplished explanation sequences and worked through practice items. It also shows how both participants selectively referenced the onscreen written instructions and how these became resources for the experimenter’s explanations and the participant’s evolving understanding of the experimental requirements. The main goal of this paper is to bring an unexamined but indispensable component of the experimental research process to applied linguists’ attention and encourage further studies in this area. A further intention is to explore pre-experimental instruction practices in a larger archive of task instructions and eventually empirically test whether the interaction during instruction delivery is at all related to variation in the reaction times as measures to operationalize cognitive processes.

Keywords: conversation analysis; epistemics; instruction; reaction time; validity


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-05-18

Published in Print: 2018-10-25

Citation Information: Applied Linguistics Review, Volume 9, Issue 4, Pages 617–641, ISSN (Online) 1868-6311, ISSN (Print) 1868-6303, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2017-0021.

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