DHASA2017 – Abstract

The use of ATLAS.ti in a data analysis of Afrikaans speaking children’s first form-meaning mappings

Brink, Nina
North-West University

The aim of this presentation is to demonstrate how the computer software ATLAS.ti can efficiently be applied in the facilitation of an extensive linguistic study and as enhancement of the data analysis. This particular study would have taken up much more time and effort without the use of digital tools.

In Language Acquisition across Linguistic and Cognitive Systems Lieven (2010:92;103) indicates a universal need for more language acquisition studies in various languages and especially research on how form-meaning mappings are construed by children based on input, particularly in language specific contexts. The term form-meaning mapping refers to the way in which children pair certain meanings with certain word forms (lexical items). This process suggests a cognitive aspect, considering that a child has to conceptualise and categorise concepts in order to establish associations with a certain lexical item. In Language and its structure Langacker (1968:24) confirms that word-meaning pairings differ from language to language, except in the cases of words borrowed from other languages.

The focus of this cognitive semantic study aims to provide a grammatical description of the form-meaning mappings of Afrikaans children. A literature review suggests that no linguistic research has been done on this topic for Afrikaans children at the age at which they begin to acquire their first lexical items. Another research void in studies of Afrikaans language acquisition is the availability of original linguistic data. Therefore, data from 21 Afrikaans speaking children between the ages of 8 and 24 months using their first lexical items were analysed in this study in order to determine the types of form-meaning mappings these children make.

Theoretical assumptions from the usage-based theory and cognitive linguistics were used in the description of the language data of the children. The theoretical framework chosen from the usage-based theory in order to optimally describe the children’s form-meaning mappings consists of cognitive models and mechanisms such as the prototype model of categorisation, metonymic and metaphoric mapping and image schemas. The process of conceptual blending is also used in describing the way in which children connect form and meaning.

The availability of computer technology greatly assists this line of research, since it facilitates access to potential respondents and enables the researcher to collect data accurately without travel. In the first place, the computer provided easy and convenient access to the respondents seeing that they, who live in various towns and provinces, were contacted by means of e-mail and Facebook. It also made it easier for them to be willing to take part in the study because the method for data gathering was electronic diary entries (in Microsoft Word format) which were easy to complete and keep up to date for the five months during which the data were gathered.

The computer software for qualitative analysis, ATLAS.ti, was used for the coding of the data. Friese (2012:1) explains in Qualitative Data Analysis with ATLAS.ti that ATLAS.ti is very useful for the adjustment of codes and coded segments, the tracing of data on the grounds of certain criteria, the search for words, to integrate material, to attach notes to certain segments, to determine the number of codes as well as how many times a specific code is used, etc.

The electronic diary entries contain the lexical item used, three contexts in which the item is used and what the parent suspects the child means by the lexical item. The diary entries were loaded onto ATLAS.ti as primary documents in one hermeneutic unit. The three contexts of the lexical items were coded according to the kind of process taking place and the theoretical framework of the study. A number of rounds of coding took place after which the codes were further organised into code families. The use of ATLAS.ti made the coding process much faster seeing that 762 lexical items were coded.

Phase one of coding entailed that the lexical items were coded according to four different categories, namely unusable, non-symbolic imitation, taken over from adult language and complex mapping (further description necessary). These codes refer to the kind of form-meaning mapping that each lexical item is. During the second phase of coding the focus was on the lexical items coded as complex mapping in order to refine the coding of items according to the cognitive models and mechanisms as set out in the theoretical framework. Through the use of ATLAS.ti, going back to only these lexical items was easy and efficient. The in-depth analyses during this phase lead to the discovery that a number of different kinds of metonymic mappings can be distinguished. Examples of these metonymic mappings are mappings made between a concept and a certain characteristic of that concept, e.g. the lexical item brrmm-brrmm (the sound a vehicle makes) used to include all types of vehicles such as cars, trucks, bicycles, etc. Another example of a metonymic mapping is the use of the lexical item pap ‘porridge’ to include any type of food. The frequency of metonymic mappings in the children’s language indicates that this may be an active cognitive mechanism at the early stages of language acquisition. In this presentation, the types of metonymic mappings will be presented, as well as the way it can be structured into categories according to the prototype model of categorisation.

Furthermore, examples of the structuring of concepts according to image schemas are the use of klaar ‘finished’ to refer to an empty container (source-path-goal schema); the lexical item binne ‘inside’ to refer to inside, outside and when something is put into something else (container-schema) and the lexical item tak ‘branch’ when referring to a tree (part- whole schema). The structuring of experiences according to image schemas underlies the process of metonymic mapping. A further important finding is that metaphoric mapping is not prominent at all during this stage of language acquisition.

Therefore, the use of computer technology made the data very accessible and aided in the systematic approach and careful analysis of the data in order to come to certain conclusions.