A Review of the Cognitive Linguistics Approach to Teaching the EFL/EIL Vocabulary

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Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) Vol.6. No.2 June 2015 Pp. 189 – 200 A Review of the Cognitive Linguistics Approach to Teaching the EFL/EIL Vocabulary Ghsoon Reda Yanbu University College Saudi Arabia Abstract This paper reviews the Cognitive
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    Arab World English Journal www.awej.org ISSN: 2229-9327 189  Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) Vol.6. No.2 June 2015 Pp. 189  –   200 A Review of the Cognitive Linguistics Approach to Teaching the EFL/EIL Vocabulary Ghsoon Reda Yanbu University College Saudi Arabia Abstract This paper reviews the Cognitive Linguistics (CL) approach to teaching the vocabulary of English as a f  oreign/international language in the light of Vyvyan Evans‟s “protean” approach to meaning and some related insights from work on meaning as a “continuum” (e.g. Radden, 2002; Dirven, 2002). The main objective is to show that the CL-inspired approach is not in line with recent findings in Cognitive Semantics. Rather, it is simply based on the Lakoff-Johnson tradition, whereby the focus is on the conceptual motivation underlying idiomatic expressions and basic word polysemy. The study demonstrates that applying this tradition to L2 vocabulary instruction is inadequate due to the contextual variability and complexity of word meaning. However, the CL-inspired methodology can be more useful than indicated in the literature if supplemented by constructivist strategies that aim at training learners to appreciate contextual meaning. The availability of language corpora can facilitate the preparation of material demonstrating different uses of targeted words.    Keywords:   Cognitive Linguistics, Conceptual Metaphor Theory, L2 vocabulary instruction, meaning as a continuum, protean approach to meaning.  Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) Vol.6. No.2 June 2015 A Review of the Cognitive Linguistics Approach Reda Arab World English Journal www.awej.org ISSN: 2229-9327 190 Introduction In the late 1990s, studies began to appear in the field of English Language Teaching (ELT) proposing the use of insights from Cognitive Linguistics (CL), and in particular from Lakoff and Johnson‟s Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT), for teaching the vocabulary of English as a foreign/international language (EFL/EIL). CMT emerged out of Reddy‟s (1979) essay “The conduit metaphor” in which he showed that met aphor (cross-domain mapping) is not only a rhetorical device, but also an important part of the way we think and express our thoughts. CMT developed this finding, uncovering complete systems of conceptual structures that reflect speakers‟ conceptualisation  and organisation of their physical and socio-cultural surroundings and underlying much of their everyday language use (see, for example, Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Lakoff, 1987). The earliest studies that considered the use of a CL-inspired approach in L2 vocabulary instruction focused on this type of motivation which is referred to in the literature as extra-linguistic motivation. Boers & Demecheleer (1998), for example, examined the possibility of teaching the polysemy of prepositions through conceptual structures. However, Boers & Lindstromberg (2008), in their edited book in which they collected a number of empirical studies on the application of CMT to L2 vocabulary instruction, broadened the scope of CL methodology by introducing two other types of motivation: intra-linguistic  and historical . This study highlights the positives of teaching vocabulary as motivated. However, it shows that the CL-inspired approach is inadequate in the sense that it is rooted in CMT and is, therefore, likely to be limited in focus to teaching fixed expressions and basic word polysemy. In the light of recent work on the complexity and variability of meaning (e.g. Radden, 2000; 2002; Evans, 2010; 2013), it can be shown that adopting a CL-inspired methodology would fail in at least two respects: (i) exposing learners to the authentic use of vocabulary, whereby words have contextual meanings that can be slightly different or more complex than their basic polysemous senses and (ii) providing the information embedded in a meaning or its extensions, considering that meaning is the product of a complex system of knowledge structures (conceptual, social, cultural, linguistic, etc.) that integrate in different ways in different contexts. However, the presentation of form-meaning/meaning-meaning relationship as non-arbitrary can be more useful than indicated in the literature if supplemented by constructivist strategies to train learners to think of meaning as variable and to be able to appreciate its contextual interpretations. This, however, would involve teaching learners to view conceptual structures as placing restrictions on the meanings a word can take on, not as playing a motivating role (see Evans, 2013). The study is structured as follows. The CL-inspired approach to teaching vocabulary is first introduced, explaining the way it complements earlier approaches and highlighting the positives of teaching vocabulary as motivated. The negatives of adopting such a methodology are then  pinpointed in the light of Vyvyan Evans‟s protean app roach to meaning and some related insights from work on meaning as a continuum. These frameworks were chosen because they fill gaps in the standard Lakoff-Johnson view and, at the same time, complement each other as follows. While Evans incorporates contextual meaning into his protean approach to meaning, Taylor, Dirven and Radden, among others, place possible word meanings on a continuum to point out the existence of fuzzy, complex contextual instances that cannot be explained in a straightforward manner. The different meanings that a word can take on (be they conventional or contextual) are  placed in Evans‟s (2015) unified account of polysemy, using example sentences of the verb to see obtained from the British National Corpus (BNC) (available from www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk). The study concludes with a summary of the points discussed and recommends broadening the scope of the CL-inspired approach by taking into account the complex and protean nature of  Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) Vol.6. No.2 June 2015 A Review of the Cognitive Linguistics Approach Reda Arab World English Journal www.awej.org ISSN: 2229-9327 191 meaning. The examples of the verb to see are used to demonstrate the usefulness of language corpora in this regard. The CL Approach to Teaching the EFL/EIL Vocabulary The CL-inspired approach to teaching vocabulary complements earlier approaches by adding a conceptual dimension to their teachings. Earlier approaches started as attempts to establish a world version for the English vocabulary but ended up focusing on basic (or core) words and expressions (see, for example, West, 1953; Willis, 1990; Nattinger & DeCarrico, 1992), claiming that such items are culturally neutral and communicatively adequate to meet learners‟ needs (see, e.g.: Quirk, 1982; Stubbs, 1986; Nation & Waring, 1997). Figure (1) sketches the developmental stages of the pre-cognitive era of teaching the EFL/EIL vocabulary.  Figure 1. The development of the pre-cognitive approaches to teaching the EFL/EIL vocabulary   The development of the pre-cognitive era, as represented by Figure (1), can be likened to a vocabulary learning continuum, with basic words and expressions on the two ends of the continuum and lexical relations, such as polysemy, synonymy, antonymy and collocation, in an intermediate position. The intermediate stage adds a syntagmatic dimension to word lists and the end stage adds a pragmatic one. The two dimensions were added as attempts to eliminate L1 transfer/interference. The emergence of the CL-inspired approach may be seen as a response to the observation that learners‟ non -native like use of English can be motivated by the metaphorical structure of L1. For example, Low (1988) wrote that: there is the question of transfer due to partial overlap in metaphoric structure in the first and target languages. For example, in both Chinese and English, anger   can be described in terms of an explosion. It can also be described in terms of a fire, except that Chinese exploits the metaphor far less than English - one cannot, for example, talk of something „kindling‟ one‟s anger in Chinese. Only in English, however, is anger standardly described as an animal, a storm, or a wave. In the absence of empirical evidence, it is hard to show whether this mismatch ever causes serious problems, but one might expect that Chinese learners would tend to prefer to use the explosion and fire metaphors at the expense of others. (P.136) Hence, introducing CL to the field of vocabulary instruction may be seen as an attempt to expose EFL/EIL learners to the conceptual system underlying the use of the language by its native speakers. This involves showing that form-meaning/meaning-meaning relationship is motivated in a systematic way. The focus on meaning-meaning relationship, however, cannot be seen as an attempt to cross the boundaries of Basic English, or incorporating the semantic richness of words into vocabulary instruction. As demonstrated below, adopting the CL-inspired methodology for teaching polysemy simply represents a shift of focus from teaching basic words and expressions Selection of basic vocabulary (frequent, useful, easy, etc.) for EFL/EIL Incorporation of lexical relations (polysemy, synonyms, antonyms, collocates, etc.) Incorporation of frequent, fixed expressions/words in discourse  Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) Vol.6. No.2 June 2015 A Review of the Cognitive Linguistics Approach Reda Arab World English Journal www.awej.org ISSN: 2229-9327 192 to teaching basic conceptual structures (i.e. structures that can show the connection between the conventional senses of a word but cannot account for their variable or complex contextual meanings). Teaching Vocabulary as Motivated As mentioned above, CL-inspired applied linguists concern themselves with investigating the usefulness of three types of motivation for teaching the EFL/EIL vocabulary: extra-linguistic, intra-linguistic and historical. However, the first type, extra-linguistic motivation, seems to have received the most attention.  Extra-linguistic motivation This type of motivation is based on CMT‟s view that linguistic ite ms form radially structured categories (i.e. categories that radiate out from a basic concept). Extensions from the basic concept are motivated by conceptual structures such as metaphors and metonymies (within-domain mapping) (Taylor, [1989]1995; Geeraerts, 1992). This is a matter of viewing more abstract concepts as structured in terms of more concrete ones. The most important motivating conceptual structures explored in CMT are referred to as “image schemas” –   skeletal structures like CONTAINER, SOURCE-PATH-GOAL, LINK, CONTACT, SUPPORT, UP-DOWN, NEAR-FAR that emerge from repeated instances of bodily experience. These structures are considered to be the bases on which speakers build networks of meanings (be they concrete or abstract). The meanings associated with prepositions present a clear case of the way in which image schemas underlie meaning. For example, the spatial and metaphorical prepositional meanings of in  in the following two sentences can both be explained as structured in terms of the CONTAINER image schema : He is in class  and She is in love . Extra-linguistic motivation is considered to be beneficial for teaching meaning-meaning relationship. It involves (i) trying to make learners aware of the basic, or prototypical, sense of a word and (ii) showing how additional senses are extended from this central sense in a systematic way via conceptual structures, as represented by Figure (2). Figurative extensions  Figure 2. Meaning-meaning connections within the CL approach to teaching   vocabulary   This methodology proved to be particularly useful for teaching prepositional meanings. Boers and Demecheleer (1998), for instance, showed that guessing the meaning of a figurative use of a preposition like beyond   (e.g. This theory is beyond me ) is more likely in the context of a reading comprehension task if students had previously been presented with a definition of the core spatial sense from which the metaphorical sense extends; namely, the one that emphasizes that beyond    core/literal meaning  Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) Vol.6. No.2 June 2015 A Review of the Cognitive Linguistics Approach Reda Arab World English Journal www.awej.org ISSN: 2229-9327 193 implies some distance between the trajectory  (the object) and the landmark  , a feature that may be taught in terms of the metaphor ABSTRACT INACCESSIBILITY IS DISTANCE. Boers (2000) also reported on the success of an experiment in which he taught two groups of phrasal and prepositional verbs (such as  find out   and turn out   as opposed to look it up  and show up ) on the basis of the two conceptual metaphors VISIBLE IS OUT AND UP and INVISIBLE IS IN AND DOWN. Similarly, Condon (2008) showed that using image schemas for teaching the particles of phrasal verbs can clarify the meaning of verbs and, therefore, facilitate their learning. A case in point is the use of th e CONTAINER image schema which „may allow the link between the more abstract uses and the more literal uses of a particle to become more obvious. For example, the learner might benefit from an account of why leaving a container renders an entity that stays inside imperceptible (rather than perceptible). It also allows the learner to distinguish between the seemingly opposing meanings of go out   and come out   in sentences such as the lights went out   and the sun came out  ‟ (Condon, 2008, p. 152). Teaching figura tive expressions in terms of conceptual structure can also facilitate their learning. For example, learners might find it easy to learn expressions like  He has gone straight  ,  He is on the straight and narrow path ,  He is deviant   and She has strayed   as generated from the PATH image schema on the basis of the following conceptual metaphors: WALKING ON THE PATH IS BEING MORAL and DIVERGING FROM THE PATH IS BEING IMMORAL. Some figurative expressions can be effectively taught through metonymy. For example, expressions like She got a big mouth  and She has a good ear for music  can be easily learnt if presented as motivated by the following metonymies in which the body part stands for its function: MOUTH FOR SPEAKING and EAR FOR LISTENING. Beréndi, Csábi & Kövecses (2008) explored teaching words and expressions on the basis of this kind of metaphorical and metonymic motivations and found it to be beneficial at least for short-term retention of items.  Intra-linguistic motivation Intra-linguistic motivation is based on a limited number of observations related to the existence of cases in which the meaning of an item is motivated by its form and vice versa. One example of this type of motivation is: words ending with /æp/ (clap, tap, rap, and slap) have similar denotations related to a specific sound produced by a movement of very short duration. Another example is: words beginning with /sp/, such as spasm , spew , spit  , spite , splat  , spleen , spoil  and spurn , have negative connotations (see Radden & Panther, 2004). For Boers & Lindstromberg (2008, p. 23), exposing learners to such form-meaning/meaning-form connections might help them to remember both the form and the meaning of words and apply this knowledge to newly encountered words of the same type. For example, a learner who learnt the above-mentioned connections might be able to see, in analogy with the already existing vocabulary, that spam  has a negative connotation, and that  flap  denotes a movement of very short duration which may cause a short, punctual sound.  Historical motivation Historical motivation is very similar to etymological searches as it involves the following: (i) identifying cognates and loanwords, (ii) noting changes in form or meaning undergone by words over time and (iii) breaking words down into meaningful affixes and roots. The idea of identifying cognates and loan words is to prompt learners toward relating the semantic and phonological poles of L2 constructions to the semantic and phonological poles of corresponding L1 constructions, which will make it easier for them to learn the items. The other two types will work as mnemonics which will contribute to a long-term retention of items. Under this type,
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