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Unitary-Trait Hypothesis

Unitary-Trait Hypothesis
John Oller
Related to the history of language
testing in 1970s

Language proficiency


Ollers Pie Recipe (G-Factor)

Language proficiency = the pie
ingredients + process
G factor = sticking agent (so that
all the ingredients stay inside the
Ingredients = grammar, phonology,
vocab, 4 language skills, etc..
Cooking process = analysis by

The key points in the article

What led to the unitary trait hypothesis?

What is the unitary trait hypothesis?
The reality lies behind the hypothesis.
Renewed version of testing because of
the unitary trait hypothesis.
The unitary trait hypothesis was wrong.
The importance of construct validation in
language assessment

What led to the unitary trait

The debate over whether or not
language ability can be divided up
into separately testable components
led to the unitary trait hypothesis.
Is language ability can be tested
using different components?

What is unitary trait hypothesis?

Language proficiency is more unitary than the
discrete point testers claimed.
Vocabulary, grammar, phonology, the four language
skills and other discrete points of language, cannot
be distinguished from each other.
Based on this hypothesis, the discrete points
in language cannot be separated from each
They are relating to each other and forming a
single unit.

There is a general factor of
language proficiency such that all
the discrete points do not add up to
that whole.
The G-factor the unitary trait,
general language proficiency
Language proficiency = ability to
analyse by synthesizing the language

The reality lies behind the

One can only comprehend and produce
language by means of a process of
1) Comprehend by predicting the message we
2) Drawing upon our knowledge of the world
3) Through pragmatic expectancy grammar
4) Redundancy built into language.
E.g: the word book (noun / verb)

Through pragmatic expectancy

Expectancy grammar- the specify of sequential
organization of language in actual use; ex: natural
Expectancy grammar enables one to predict an item
that will come next in a sequence
Pragmatic expectancy grammar- accessible to the
language user in real life situation because they
indexed with reference to their appropriateness to
extra linguistic contexts.
Take language in context and usually has relationship
to the concept or use of the whole language.

Renewed version of testing because

of the unitary trait hypothesis.
Interest of language testers in the
construct validity of language
(A construct is something that happens in the
brain, like a skill, level of emotion, ability or
proficiency. For example, proficiency in any
language is a construct. Validity means the
degree to which the test actually measures what
it is intended to measure.)

The unitary trait hypothesis was

Subsequent studies disconfirmed the
unitary trait hypothesis.
Argued by many, noting that:
Language proficiency is one of the most
poorly defined concepts in the field of
language testing. Farhady (1980)
Oller backed down and admitted that
the Unitary Trait Hypothesis was wrong.

Importance of construct validity in

language assessment
Construct validation as a central
concern of language testing
A renewed* interest in factor
analysis as an analytic procedure.
*the pie is improvised. People add
baking soda..