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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 third specific hypothesis, namely the presence of the prototypicality effect in the learning of L2 words denoting instances from culture-specific conceptual categories, is tested. In Chapter 7, observations have been made that the prototypicality effect is present in L2 vocabulary learning. Chinese participants did retrieve with greater ease English (L2) labels denoting the Cbp category instances than those denoting the Cbnp instances. Nevertheless, no efforts in Chapter 7 have been directed to look into cultural variations in prototypicality ratings in the target semantic categories. As discussed in Sections 5.4 and 5.5, conceptual categories are not mirror-like reflections of the existing categories in the objective world but outcomes of people’s categorization and conceptualization of the world they live in. They are the outcomes of the interaction of such factors as the objective world, the physical and psychological peculiarities of the human body, and the cultural environments. They are subject to the culture in which they are generated. To fully answer the question of whether the L1-based patterns of concept categorization play a role in adult L2 vocabulary learning as they do in L1 vocabulary acquisition, it is necessary to examine learners' learning of L2 words from semantic categories which involve cultural variation in the patterns of conceptual organization. What will happen when the to-be-learned L2 words involve cultural variation in category prototypicality? What will happen when learners are introduced simultaneously to L2 words that denote category instances involving cultural variations in prototypicality, or specifically to...

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