ERG SES H 02, Language and Education
Reflecting an emerging trend in EFL (English as a foreign language) research, the talk presents an empirical classroom-based study inspired by Cognitive Linguistics methodologies (Boers/Lindstromberg 2008; Xia/Wolf 2010; Xia 2014). While the study's general interest is L2 vocabulary acquisition, it focuses on vocabulary 'semantizations' within the EFL classroom, i.e. the presentation of new words to learners by way of paraphrase, explanation, or definition (Beheydt 1987). Based on evidence from Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Linguistics on the pervasive presence of prototype effects in the organization of the mental lexicon (Rosch/Mervis 1975; Rosch et al. 1976; Rosch 1978; Labov 1983; Taylor 2003), the study empirically investigates whether a novel approach to vocabulary semantizations that is based on Prototype Theory might prove superior to traditional methods of introducing learner lexicon.
As its main hypothesis, the study posits that L2 vocabulary acquisition in non-native speakers is facilitated by creating word semantizations (i.e. explanatory paraphrases) that deliberately contain typical representatives (in accordance with Prototype Theory) of vocabulary to-be-acquired. Conventional approaches to semantization, in contrast, as seen in monolingual dictionaries or school textbook glossaries, typically contain attribute-based descriptions of L2 target words that enlist necessary-and-sufficient features thought to detail the word's meaning. This time-honoured method, however, is habitually fraught with low vocabulary retention rates as well as student word sense misconstruals (for corresponding evidence in L1 English learners, cp. McKeown 1993; Dabrowska 2009; Beck et al. 2013: 40-54).
To illustrate the study setup, compare the L2 learner word furniture as introduced to non-native speakers (also take into account their limited access to more specialized L2 vocabulary) in a traditional as opposed to a prototype-based semantization:
- furniture is movable articles used in readying an area (as a room or patio) for occupancy or use.
(= conventional learner dictionary semantization; Merriam-Webster 2016)
- furniture is, for example, chairs, tables, cupboards and shelves.
(= innovative best-representative semantization);
Conducted as a pre-posttest-control-group design in an ecologically valid secondary school environment, the study expects prototype-based semantizations to yield superior word retention rates of correct word senses in a learner group of N ≥ 300 German 10th grade students.
Regarding its cognitive-empirical methodology, the investigation builds on widely recognized findings in Cognitive Psychology that consistently demonstrate that best word sense representatives and their respective category labels are quickly and reliably associated across a variety of experimental settings (Rosch/Mervis 1975; Rosch et al. 1976; Rosch 1978). In this manner, in relation to the category they are affiliated with, best representatives consistently (i) receive highest typicality ratings, (ii) are the first to be produced in free association tasks, (iii) exhibit lowest verification times for category membership, and (iv) facilitate membership confirmation for other members in priming paradigms (for a research summary, cp. Rosch et al. 1976: 491-501). Following Rosch and colleague's pioneering work on natural categories (such as fruit or vehicle), pronounced typicality effects were also demonstrated for mathematical or kinship categories of supposedly more rigid boundaries, such as odd numbers or female person (cp. Armstrong et al. 1999). In sum, cognitive psychological research suggests that best representatives provide privileged and reliable access to (superordinate) category labels in the learners' mental lexicon. The current study consequently aims to exploit these well-established effects to produce L2 word semantizations that make use of best representatives as 'cognitive anchors' or 'aids' that quickly and reliably evoke the intended word sense of the category lexeme in L2 word introductions.
The talk will present the results of a trial study, using the experimental setup as described below, conducted with adult L2 learners via an online-based survey.
ALTE (2005) The Association of Language Testers in Europe: ALTE Materials for the Guidance of Test Item Writers. Web Resource.
Armstrong, Sharon L., Lila R. Gleitman, and Henry Gleitman (1999) What Some Concepts Might Not Be . Concepts: Core readings. Ed. Eric Margolis. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. 225-59.
Bachman, Lyle F. (2000) Modern Language Testing at the Turn of the Century: Assuring That What We Count Counts. Language Testing 17.1: 1-42.
Beheydt, Ludo (1987) The Semantization of Vocabulary in Foreign Language Learning. System 15.1: 55-67.
Beck, Isabel L., Margaret G. McKeown, and Linda Kucan (2013) Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction. New York: The Guilford Press.
Boers, Frank, and Seth Lindstromberg (2008) Ed. Cognitive Linguistic Approaches to Teaching Vocabulary and Phraseology. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Dabrowska, Ewa. (2009) Words As Constructions. New Directions in Cognitive Linguistics. Ed. Vyvyan Evans. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 201-23.
Harger, Laurence, and Hellmut Schwarz (2011) English G 21 für Gymnasien: Band A6. Berlin: Cornelsen.
Labov, William (1983) The Boundaries of Words and Their Meanings. Variation in the Form and Use of Language: A Sociolinguistics Reader. Ed. Ralph W. Fasold. Washington: Georgetown University Press 29-62.
McKeown, M. G. (1993) Creating Effective Definitions for Young Word Learner. Reading Research Quarterly 28.1: 16-31.
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