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Idioms in the Bilingual Mental Lexicon

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Item Summary

Title:Idioms in the Bilingual Mental Lexicon
Authors:Lin, Jung-Ts
Date Issued:Aug 2016
Publisher:[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [August 2016]
Abstract:This study investigates how native and non-native speakers of English understand English idioms by investigating how context and other factors affect idiom processing and how idioms are represented in speakers’ mental lexicons. The study utilizes Abel’s (2003) dual idiom representation model (DIRM), which differs from previous idiom processing models in that it is based on second language (L2) data as well as first language (L1) data.
In order to address the questions of how L1 and L2 speakers process and conceive of idioms, the study conducted an experiment in which L1 English speakers and L2 English speakers completed a self-paced reading (SPR) task. Both groups also completed a semantic decomposability survey and an idiom familiarity survey, and the L2 group additionally completed a metaphoric equivalence survey.
The participants were 36 native speakers of Chinese and 40 native speakers of English, all either undergraduate or graduate students at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM). For the study materials, 24 English idioms from a list of idioms utilized by Abel (2003) were selected on the basis of word frequency, currency, degree of familiarity, semantic decomposability, and metaphoric equivalence. The SPR task used all of these idioms, and included 48 passages (12 priming contexts, 12 neutral contexts, and 24 fillers), which participants read on a computer screen. Their reaction times (RT) were recorded by the computer. The surveys asked the participants to rate the 24 idioms in terms of familiarity, semantic decomposability, and metaphoric equivalence (L2 group only) on a 5-point Likert scale.
The research provides several important results. First, both the L1 and the L2 language users processed the idioms faster in priming contexts than in neutral contexts. The dissertation discusses this finding in terms of the graded salience hypothesis (Giora, 1997) of idiom processing. Second, both the L1 and the L2 language users tended to conceive of the idioms as semantically decomposable rather than semantically nondecomposable, and this tendency was stronger in the L1 group; this finding differs from previous studies’ reports. Drawing on the dual idiom representation model, the dissertation provides possible reasons for this difference. The analysis of the L1 group’s idiom processing found an interaction effect between familiarity and semantic decomposability: As the degrees of familiarity and semantic decomposability increased, the RTs in the neutral contexts decreased greatly, but the RTs in the priming contexts did not. In the L2 participants’ idiom processing, as the degrees of metaphoric equivalence between L1 and L2 increased, the RTs in the neutral contexts decreased greatly, while the RTs in the priming contexts did not. However, as the degrees of semantic decomposability increased, the RTs in the priming contexts decreased greatly, while the RTs in the neutral contexts did not.
This study contributes to research on second language acquisition and idiom processing by using the DIRM to investigate both L1 and L2 language users’ idiom comprehension. In addition, it provides insights into how to select idioms and create reliable rating surveys for idiom research. Furthermore, its results offer L2 language teachers some pedagogical implications by providing a better understanding of how L2 learners conceive of and process L2 idioms.
Description:Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2016.
Includes bibliographical references.
Appears in Collections: Ph.D. - Second Language Studies

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