Investigating the Role of L2 Language Proficiency in Word Association Behavior of L2 Learners: A Case of Iranian EFL Learners

Khazaeenezhad, Bahareh; Alibabaee, Ahmad
January 2013
Theory & Practice in Language Studies;Jan2013, Vol. 3 Issue 1, p108
Academic Journal
In the last few decades word association research has provided precise insight into the development and organization of the mental lexicon; however, there is still sufficient ground for more exploration to gain a better understanding of how L2 learners' mental lexicon might be organized and how word association behavior may vary according to L2 proficiency level. This paper was intended to investigate the development of mental lexicon through a psycholinguistic experiment and more specifically, to explore the possible role L2 language proficiency may have in word association behaviors of Iranian EFL learners. To this end, a standardized English placement test (OPT) and a word association test were administered to 120 undergraduate EFL learners. The elicited responses were classified based on Peppard's (2007) model and then analyzed in terms of the frequency of each type of word association. The results indicated that upper intermediate students' responses were significantly more frequent than beginners' responses in the categories of "Synonymy" and "Hypernymy and Hyponymy" which are paradigmatic relations and the beginners' responses were significantly more frequent in the category of "Grammatical collocation" which is a syntagmatic relation. These findings, which support McCarthy (1990) and Meara (1982), are not in line with Wolter'(2001) belief about the re-evaluation of the syntagmatic-paradigmatic shift in the case of nonnative speakers. The study implies important implications for vocabulary teaching through assisting learners in building stronger semantic links between words.


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