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Categorization and L2 Vocabulary Learning

A Cognitive Linguistic Perspective


Xiaoyan Xia

The book addresses the role of the L1 (first language)-based concept categorization in L2 (second language) vocabulary learning from a cognitive linguistic perspective. The author hypothesizes that the patterns of one’s L1-based concept categorization will be present in his or her L2 vocabulary learning as well. The two characteristics pertaining to concept categorization under investigation are the prototypicality and the basic-level effects. The results show that the psychological salience of the basic-level and the prototypical concepts in one’s L1-based conceptual system is related to better retention and faster retrieval of the corresponding L2 words. The author argues that these two effects are dynamic in L2 contexts, being influenced by factors such as concept familiarity, formal instruction and exposure to the specific culture.
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This chapter illustrates the intrinsic relationship between categorization and L1 vocabulary learning and use, focusing on the presence of the basic-level effect and the prototypicality effect (i.e., the two characteristics in the patterns of concept categorization) in L1 vocabulary learning and use. The chapter is composed of three sections. Section 3.1 argues that categorization is the basis for vocabulary learning and use and presents a conceptual model of word meaning. Under this model of word meaning, word learning is defined as establishing connections between words and conceptual categories. Section 3.2 is concerned with empirical evidence for the intrinsic relationship between categorization and L1 vocabulary learning, namely the manifestations of the basic-level and prototypicality effects in L1 vocabulary learning and use. Section 3.3 is a summary of this chapter.

As discussed in Section 2.1, categorization is the way in which the human mind, on the basis of the bodily interaction with the world, cuts the world into discrete units or “conceptual categories” (Croft & Cruse 2004, p. 74). These conceptual categories, on the one hand, are stored in humans’ minds as mental concepts; and on the other hand, are normally designated by words. The whole process can hence be depicted in a simple way as follows: the objective world → categorization → conceptual categories → concepts → words. It is this function of categorization as being the cognitive foundation for the formation of conceptual categories and the invention of words that is under discussion in this section. Consequently, the definitions of...

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