Fubbing foppotees and blandishing mattoids: Harnessing form-meaning motivation for the recall and retention of L2 lexis.

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis


The notion of linguistic motivation in cognitive linguistics refers to the idea that a retrospective explanation can be sought for why a linguistic unit in a specific language comes in a particular form or with a particular meaning (Radden & Panther 2004). If we can basically define known words in psycholinguistic terms as form-meaning-mappings, the present PhD investigates whether the notion of form-meaning motivation can be applied for pedagogical purposes. This type of motivation proposes that a reason can be sought for why any form-meaning-mapping (i.e. a word) was coined in the first place, as in the case of cognates and phonaesthemes, (Firth 1930) for instance, where form contributes to meaning or meaning to form. More specifically, we explore whether form-meaning motivation can be harnessed to speed up discrete L2 vocabulary learning, deemed particularly necessary in the case of input-poor environments, where lexical development cannot solely rely on incidental learning. To operationalize this, we asked upper intermediate Dutch-speaking learners of en_GB to rate a series of obscure en_GB words as to the motivatability of their form-meaning-mapping (i.e. to evaluate their form-meaning-fit). The words were presented alongside their meaning (in Dutch) in a paired-associate paradigm. We speculated that the rating task would encourage participants to come up with so-called mapping elaborations, i.e. mental deliberations which attend to -- and cognitively engage with -- the form and meaning of new words. Ideally, this should draw the two fundamental aspects of wordhood closer together, as well as integrate these words faster and more durably in long-term memory by exposing cross- and intralexical connections. Afterwards, we tested learners on their form and meaning recollection of the new words. More specifically, in a first experiment (N=81), the immediate and delayed post-test results of learners in the form-meaning-fit treatment were compared to those in comparison treatments. The form-meaning-fit learners significantly outperformed their counterparts in terms of immediate form recall. In a second study, other upper-intermediate L2 learners (N=30) were invited not only to rate the form-meaning fit of new words, but also to explain their motivatability ratings. The resulting interviews were then transcribed, with student task responses categorized as they emerged from the data. In order to justify their motivation ratings, learners drew on cross-lexical associations most frequently, closely followed by sound-symbolic associations, where symbolic values were assigned to the intrinsic sound or spelling of a word. The transcripts convincingly showed that learners were hard-wired to give meaning to lexical forms they (think they) recognized. Furthermore, many learners were keen on making meaning out of forms they did not recognize at first sight or sound. Our post-test results reveal that quantity of mapping elaborations is positively associated with scores on post-tests. We conclude that even though our motivatability-treatment may be constrained in terms of learner types and individual words, it frequently triggers explicit mapping elaborations that are likely to help multilingual students take the first step - or leap - in the word learning process. We therefore suggest that the notion of form-meaning motivation has considerable pedagogical mileage in explicit, discrete word learning. References: - Firth, J.R. (1930). The Tongues of Men, and Speech. London: Oxford University Press. - Radden, G., & Panther, K.-U. (Eds.) (2004). Studies in Linguistic Motivat
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Boers, Frank, Co-Supervisor, External person
  • Eyckmans, June, Supervisor
Place of PublicationBrussels
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • SLA


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