Lade Inhalt...

Extending the mental lexicon: The L2 mental lexicon

von Maximilian Wabnitz (Autor)

Seminararbeit 2009 18 Seiten

Didaktik - Englisch - Pädagogik, Sprachwissenschaft


Table of contents

Chapter 1: Introduction to the L2 Mental Lexicon

Chapter 2: Structure of the L2 mental lexicon

Chapter 3: Analysis of the L2 Mental Lexicon

Chapter 4: Results of the research

Chapter 5: Conclusion

Chapter 6: List of sources

Chapter 7: Appendix

Chapter 1: Introduction to the L2 Mental Lexicon

How does the L2 (second language) mental lexicon differ from the L1 (first language) mental lexicon? Are they differently structured and if so, with what means can that difference be empirically proven?

In this paper, the above-mentioned questions will be examined with the focus on the expansion of the L2 mental lexicon and the connection among words.

Singleton (1998:189) states that the L1 and L2 mental lexicon are connected with each other. Wolter (2006:741) adds that there is a strong influence of the first language mental lexicon on the second language mental lexicon. Therefore, it seems that two mental lexicons exist. But how does the L2 mental lexicon develop?

There are two occasions in which the L2 mental lexicon comes to the surface: Firstly, the acquisition of another language, and secondly, early bilingualism or multi­lingualism (Singleton 2000:180). More important, however, is the question, whether there is a clean start when learning a second language has begun. The answer is no, based on the concept that there is already a first language system available. Of course, we do not know all the words in the foreign language we want to acquire, but by referring to the native language it is known that there is a word for something we want to express, for example, what the rain (falling) or sun (shining) does. Even though, the lexical terms of falling and shining have not been learnt yet, there is still the concept that they exist. Therefore, the idea of a clean new start of the L2 mental lexicon can be falsified:

What this means for the L2 learner is that a complex set of assumptions for assimilating and structuring L2 lexical knowledge is already well in place before they learn their first word in the L2.” (Wolter 2006:742).

‘False friends’ are a very common example which proves that the L1 and L2 mental lexicon are somehow connected with each other. Considering the German word Gift, probably a high majority of young learners would translate it to the English word gift, not knowing that poison would be the correct answer and Geschenk would be the translation of the not correctly chosen English word gift. In this case, the L2 learner assumed that a certain lexical term from his mother language (Gift) can be applied and transferred to the foreign language (gift). All in all, “...L2 learners are already in possession of a highly sophisticated and structured L1 lexicon.” (Wolter 2006:741).

Chapter 2: Structure of the L2 mental lexicon

As it has already been said, the L1 mental lexicon provides a lexical and conceptual network, but “...the learner will still need to fill out the network with L2 words.” (Wolter 2006:743). In order to acquire a network connection among words, conceptual knowledge is necessary by putting a semantic meaning on the lexical items, for example the lexical interaction where two lexical terms are merged, such as small room. Here, two different words have been put together resulting in a semantic interaction, where a collocation is created.

Another way of conceptualization is based on words which do not show a lexical interaction, but are still related to each other as concepts, for example the words room and office. Wolter (2006:744) states that combining them would not result in a lexical interaction based on the fact that the connection and relation can still be seen (both terms stand for a place).

These ideas of a lexical and conceptual connection can already be found in the L1 mental lexicon. But “.when the L1 knowledge of lexical combinations is not sufficient for informing correct lexical choices in the L2, new connections will have to be made.” (ibid. 2006:745). Singleton (1998:153ff.; 2000:181) also states that meaning differs among different languages and that only the restructuring of the concept helps to master the disparity between the first and second mental lexicon.

In the context of the structure of the mental lexicon, it has to be mentioned that much “of the existing literature on neurological and psychological aspects of bilingualism indicates lack of agreement on the issue of lexical organization.” (Cieslicka- Ratajczak 1994:108). In addition, the already proven fact of the existence of a L2 mental lexicon has sometimes been doubted: “Some studies seem to point to separate listings for the two languages, while others argue for a single lexical store.” (ibid.1994:109).

Let us come back to the idea that the L1 and the L2 mental lexicon are connected with each other and that a lexical and conceptual network is already given and only has to be filled with words of the foreign language. But how do we link words and how can we develop and improve the lexical storage of vocabulary?

There are three types of connections which will be explained as follows:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: Overview types of connections (adapted from Wolter 2006:745)

The first type, the paradigmatic response, comprises words of the same word class which can show a hierarchical connection and which “...can usually fill the same syntactic slot in a sentence.” (Wolter 2006:745). Examples are given in the following table:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Table 1: Examples for a paradigmatic connection (adapted from Wolter 2006:745)

The second type, the syntagmatic response, deals with words coming from different word classes. Typical characteristics include collocations and a sequential relation­ship. The prompt word dog, for example, might lead to bite and bark.

The third type, the clang-other responses, “.are defined as responses that resemble the prompt word only phonologically, and bear no overt semantic connection to the prompt word.” (Wolter 2001:43), for example dog ➔ fog.

All three types of connections will play an important role later on, when it comes to the empirical analysis of the L1 and L2 mental lexicon.

Chapter 3: Analysis of the L2 Mental Lexicon

Before the actual procedure and analysis of Wolter’s research will be discussed, some of his fundamental findings and ideas need to be explained first. He points out three important features concerning the mental lexicon (Wolter 2001:47):

1. The mental lexicon of L1 and L2 ‘look’ different, considering that even L2 learners who managed to reach a proficient level, still have a smaller amount of vocabulary in L2 than L1. The L1 and L2 mental lexicons, however, are both unstable, whereas the L2 mental lexicon is more unstable due to the ‘weaker’ connections between words.
2. The focus of the research is on the analysis of word connections, for example comparisons between non-native and native speakers or varieties between different age groups: “one is dealing with the connections between the words rather than preexisting and overarching structure containing those words.”
3. Words are acquired to a different extent, i.e. some words are known better, some only to a certain degree and some words are not known at all. The better a word is known, the stronger is the connection to other words located in the mental lexicon.

Wolter (2001:47) refers to the so called depth of word knowledge model which describes the connections among words (see figure 2). In the core of our mental lexicon only well known words can be found. The core is surrounded by a periphery, comprising fairly and moderately known words, i.e. these words “are known to varying degrees” (ibid. 2001:47). In the total periphery the words are either hardly known or completely unknown to us. The model represents the interconnection between words in the mental lexicon and explains that the connection among words gets weaker, the further they are out to the periphery:

“In this model, the strength of connections formed between a particular word in the mental lexicon and other words is viewed as being conditioned by how well that particular word is known, or in other words, its proximity to the core vocabulary” (Wolter 2001:47).



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
751 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Hildesheim (Stiftung) – English Department
Mental Lexicon Language Acquisition L2 Clang-other Paradigmatic connection Syntagmatic connection Word knowledge model Aural-oral word association test Prompt words Non-native speakers


  • Maximilian Wabnitz (Autor)



Titel: Extending the mental lexicon: The L2 mental lexicon