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An investigation of L2 English learners' knowledge of polysemous word senses

Maby, Mark 2016. An investigation of L2 English learners' knowledge of polysemous word senses. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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Polysemy is a challenge for L2 learners because it confounds the mapping of form to meaning. We can therefore consider learners' capacity to manage polysemous words as an indication of their L2 lexical and conceptual knowledge. To investigate what factors affect L2 learners' knowledge of polysemous meanings, a test was created in which Arabic learners of English judged whether various meanings of polysemous words were used acceptably in sentence-length contexts. Analysis of the results revealed that two key factors determined learner responses. First, learners were more likely to respond that a polysemous sense was acceptable if it was more frequently used in English. Second, learners were more likely to judge a polysemous sense as acceptable if was semantically closer to the core sense, such as when head is used in the test item, “I went to sleep early to have a clear head for the exam,” in contrast to this less closely related use, “The president sat at the head of the table.” Semantic similarity was further addressed through distractor items that were unacceptable to native English speakers but logically related to the core sense, such as this use of head, “I thought she was upset because she had a sad head,” in contrast to the illogical use, “Come through into the dining head.” Again, L2 learners generally judged the distractor items as more acceptable if the usage of the polysemous word was semantically related to the core sense. Further analysis revealed that learners with high scores on a receptive vocabulary size test were more likely to correctly reject distractor items; however, there was little indication that L1 form-meaning mappings affected perceptions of L2 polysemy. The implications of these findings for theories of lexical processing, and for the teaching of polysemous words in the classroom, are considered.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 11 April 2017
Last Modified: 26 Jan 2022 10:41

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