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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 is organized as follows: Section 4.1 discusses some differences between L2 vocabulary learning and L1 vocabulary learning. Section 4.2 concerns the issue of how L2 words gain their meaning in L2 learners’ minds under the conceptual model of word meaning. Based on a survey of various models of bilingual lexical representations in the bilingual and L2 vocabulary learning literature, a three-stage conceptual model of L2 vocabulary learning is presented. Section 4.3 is a discussion of the notion of a single conceptual system in L2 learners’ minds. Section 4.4 is a summary of this chapter.

L2 vocabulary learning is different from L1 vocabulary learning in many ways. First, the nature of learning is different because L1 vocabulary learning is an index of cognitive development while L2 vocabulary learning is not. For L1 learners, learning an L1 word always involves learning about what the world is and how it works (MacWhinney 2008, p. 341). As discussed in Section 3.1.2, L1 word learning is always interwoven with categorizing activities and subsequently with the emergence of a new conceptual category or the modification of an existing conceptual category20. Studies on child language development have provided plenty of evidence for this interactional relationship between categorization and L1 vocabulary development (e.g., Gopnik & Meltzoff 1986, 1987, 1992). L2 learners (adult L2 learners are specified here), characteristic of being “at a more advanced stage of development in both physical and cognitive terms” (Singleton 1999, p. 80), however, are very ← 47 | 48...

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