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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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In this chapter, a brief introduction is provided to the theoretical framework adopted in this research, namely the main tenets of Experientialism, to show how meaning, mental concepts, and concept categorization motivate surface linguistic representations. Then, the relevance of Experientialism to the current research is elaborated. The relevant issues addressed are as follows: 1) the relationship between humans’ bodily experience and the formation of mental concepts and the organization of concepts as well as the relationship between language, cognition, and reality; 2) the nature of concepts, or specifically their internal contents and their organization into conceptual categories; 3) possible universalities across conceptual systems underlying different languages; 4) possible differences across conceptual systems underlying different languages; 5) the types of predictions Experientialism motivates with regard to the role of the L1-based conceptual system in L2 vocabulary learning. Each of the above issues is discussed in a separate section.

The notion of embodiment is one of the most fundamental tenets of Experientialism (Lakoff 1987, p. 267). It mainly addresses the question of how the human body and its experience relate to the genesis of concepts and the organization of conceptual structure. It argues for the significance of the human body, the perceptual and motor systems in particular, in the formation of concepts, and states that human concepts, which underlie both language and reason, are acquired and understood through bodily experience (Lakoff 1987, p. 12–15). We human beings owe the content of our concepts and the conceptual structures...

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