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Transferability and translatability of idioms by Thai-speaking learners of English

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Author Cedar, Payung Songyoo.
Broad Subject Education
Language and linguistics
Summary A central question in the study of second language acquisition (L2A) concerns the basis for vocabulary learning: how do speakers use the concepts lexically encoded in their first language (L1) to learn words in the L2where the mapping between concepts and lexical structures will differ from those in the L1? One theoretical approachPrototypicality Theory (PT) (Kellerman 19781986Zhou 2001)makes predictions that speakers are most likely to transfer the senses of Ll words that are prototypicaland are less likely to transfer senses that are metaphorical or otherwise secondary. This study tested whether PT held true for L2A of elements beyond the lexical levelby examining the acquisition of clause-level idioms. In order to maximize thesemantico-pragmatic prototypicality effects and lessen the possibility of cognate expressionsI examined two typologically distant languagesThai and English.

This study contained five experiments exploring the effects on idiom transferability of several factors: native speakers' intuitions about the transparency of the L1 idiomsthe pragmatic and structural congruency of idioms across the two languagesand L2 proficiency. (An L1 idiom was considered structurally congruent with an L2 idiom if the major content words could be literally translated. Pragmatic congruency meant that the L1 and L2 idioms shared the same central conceptand could be used in the same contexts.

A pilot study of advanced Thai-speaking learners of English showed that they had little ability to produce L2 counterparts of L1 idioms. The second experiment explored Thai native speakers' intuitions about semantic transparency of Thai idioms. The third and fourth experiments investigated learners' judgments about the acceptability of structurally congruent vs. pragmatically congruent translations. Results showed that judgments for structurally congruent translations were associated with semantic transparency; this effect was stronger for learners at lower proficiency levels. Additionallythe learnersregardless of proficiency levelaccepted pragmatically congruent translations more frequently than structurally congruent translations. The fifth experiment on actual translation of the idioms also showed interacting effects of semantic transparency and L2 proficiency. Accordinglythe study concluded that PT accounted well for L2A of elements beyond the lexical level

Language English
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