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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, the second specific hypothesis concerning the presence of the prototypicality effect in L2 vocabulary learning is tested. As surveyed in Section and revisited in Section 5.2, the prototypicality effect is another characteristic pertaining to the patterns of concept categorization. It captures the phenomenon that variation in terms of prototypicality of category members affects people’s cognitive processes regarding the corresponding conceptual categories. Conceptual categories are observed to exhibit graded structure such that some category members are more representative of their respective categories than others. In comparison with non-prototypical members, prototypical members of a conceptual category are psychologically more salient in people’s minds. Due to this salient status, prototypical members receive preferential processing. If it is true that a learner makes use of his or her L1-based conceptual system when he or she approaches an L2, then it is predicted that the prototypicality effect will be present in L2 vocabulary learning as it is in L1 vocabulary learning.

In the L1 context, it has been empirically shown that the more prototypical a category member is, the easier it is incorporated into its category structure and hence the quicker its label is encoded into memory. It is hypothesized that L2 labels denoting the L1-based prototypical members are retrieved better in terms of quantity and faster in terms of production order by L2 learners than those denoting the L1-based non-prototypical members after they are introduced to L2 labels of category members varying in the L1-based category...

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