Can form-meaning motivation foster L2 word recall? An exploratory study

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceUnpublished abstract


The notion of form-meaning motivation (FMM) in cognitive linguistics refers to the idea that a retrospective explanation can be sought for why a lexical unit in a specific language comes in a particular form or with a particular meaning. If known words can basically be defined in psycholinguistic terms as form-meaning-mappings, the present paper explores whether FMM can be harnessed to speed up discrete L2 vocabulary learning. To operationalize this, we designed a think-aloud protocol where upper-intermediate Dutch-speaking learners of English (N=30) were invited to evaluate the potentially motivated nature of the connection between word form (new) and word meaning (known) of 14 novel words, and to explain each evaluation, if possible. Afterwards, participants were unexpectedly tested on their form and meaning recall of the new words.
Transcripts show that, in order to justify their ratings, learners drew on cross-lexical associations most frequently (50%), referring to soundalike or lookalike words in the target or other known language(s). This tally was closely followed by sound-symbolic associations (38%), where referential values were assigned to the intrinsic sound or shape of a word. Transcripts also reveal that both types of learner-generated associations can be viewed as mapping elaborations, i.e. mental deliberations which attend to the form and meaning of new words, as well as to the link in-between. Our post-test results indicate that cross-lexical and sound-symbolic associations were equally successful in fostering both form and meaning recall. We suggest that the FMM rating task, by exposing cross-lexical connections and/or generating creative associations, helps to integrate new words faster and more durably in long-term memory.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2013
EventVocab@Vic 2013: Current trends in Vocabulary Studies - Wellington, New Zealand
Duration: 18 Dec 201320 Dec 2013


ConferenceVocab@Vic 2013: Current trends in Vocabulary Studies
CountryNew Zealand


  • SLA, cognitive linguistics
  • vocabulary learning and teaching


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