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The inferencing behaviour of Swedish EFL university students: A quantitative analysis of lexical inferencing in relation to vocabulary depth


  • Elin Nylander

Summary, in English

The empirical study reported in this essay concerns Swedish university level learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) and their lexical inferencing skills, that is, their ability to guess the meaning of unknown words in a running text using different types of knowledge and textual cues (Haastrup, 1991). More precisely, the present investigation explores the relationship between students’ inferencing behaviour and the quality of their vocabulary knowledge, which is commonly referred to as vocabulary depth (Qian, 2002). The study aims at examining whether learners demonstrating a deep vocabulary make use of different kinds of knowledge when inferring word meanings than learners with less lexical depth. Attention was also paid to how the word class of an unknown word influences the inferencing process.

Twenty students participated in the study and were asked to perform two different tasks: a vocabulary depth test (WAT) and a lexical inferencing task. The latter amounted to verbally inferring the meaning of 12 supposedly unknown target words from a reading passage composed for this particular experiment. As a means to investigate the inferencing procedure in relation to the grammatical form (i.e. word class) of a target word, half of the selected words were adjectives and the others were verbs.

The present findings indicate a positive correlation between inferential skills and vocabulary depth, as the students obtaining high WAT-scores were generally more successful in their inferencing than those with a less deep vocabulary. However, although the participants evinced different levels of lexical depth, they all tended to rely on the same knowledge sources. Finally, the current study suggests that the word class of a target word does not have a significant impact on students’ inferential processes, as no statistical difference was observed between the inferences based on adjectives and the guesses based on verbs.


Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Bachelor's degree


  • Languages and Literatures


  • Henrik Gyllstad (Dr)