Learning Spoken Words from Context
: Effects of First and Second Language Proficiency on Word Form and Word Meaning Acquisition

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Science (MSc)


Acquiring new vocabulary in adulthood happens largely from context. The efficiency of contextual learning and the quality of lexical representations formed through it has been explored in the visual domain (Frishkoff, Perfetti & Collins-Thompson, 2010). However, contextual learning in the auditory domain and the development of word form and word meaning representations in such settings has received little attention. Additionally, high language proficiency facilitates novel word acquisition (Shefelbine, 1990; Kaushanskaya, 2012), but the type of word learning facilitated and the source of this effect are still unclear. To address these gaps in research, word learning was investigated in L2 learners with aurally presented sentences where novel word meanings were inferred from the context. Whether this learning task leads to novel word representations that are integrated into the mental lexicon (i.e. lexicalized) was tested immediately and 48 hours after learning. Explicit and implicit novel word knowledge was examined with two-alternative forced-choice, Pause Detection and Semantic Relatedness task, using behavioral and ERP measures of learning. In the Semantic Relatedness task, lexicalization of the novel words was tested via semantic priming: if novel words have been lexicalized, they should prime their meanings (e.g. cathedruke - basket) as well as their semantic associates (e.g. cathedruke - weave). Our findings demonstrate above-chance recognition accuracy for novel word forms and their meanings immediately after learning; moreover, recognition accuracy increased between the testing sessions and varied as a function of L1 proficiency. Higher L2 proficiency was associated to higher gains in word form recognition accuracy over time. Importantly, semantic priming (indexed by N400) was found for both meaning and semantic associate targets 48 hours after learning. The findings contribute to the discussion of language proficiency effects in word learning and of how lexical representations develop from context.
Date of Award23 Jan 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorNina Kazanina (Supervisor)

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