Research Topic

Fuzzy Lexical Representations in the Nonnative Mental Lexicon

About this Research Topic

The mental lexicon of second language (L2) speakers is usually smaller in their L2 compared to their native language (L1) due to reduced L2 input and exposure. Research on L2 vocabulary acquisition often adopts a binary approach to L2 word knowledge: an L2 word is either known or not known to an L2 speaker at ...

The mental lexicon of second language (L2) speakers is usually smaller in their L2 compared to their native language (L1) due to reduced L2 input and exposure. Research on L2 vocabulary acquisition often adopts a binary approach to L2 word knowledge: an L2 word is either known or not known to an L2 speaker at a given time. However, the L2 lexicon also contains less robust, or fuzzy, lexical representations that are not properly encoded. A fuzzy lexical representation is characterized by a large degree of uncertainty and ambiguity and has less distinct, vague boundaries that differentiate it from the neighboring representations. The fuzziness of lexical representations can manifest itself at the level of phonological or orthographic encoding, at the level of word meaning, or as loose, fuzzy form-meaning associations. Vocabulary acquisition is a cumulative and dynamic process. Each lexical representation moves on the continuum between fuzziness and robustness over time. The position of the representation on this continuum depends on multiple factors, such as the difficulties involved in its encoding, the recency of its acquisition and the frequency of its retrieval. New L2 words form and consolidate in a gradual and incremental manner and may not reach the robust end of the continuum even at late stages of L2 acquisition.
Behavioral and neurolinguistic evidence supports the notion of fuzzy lexical representations in L2 lexical processing and learning. L2 words with fuzzy phonological representations are easily confusable and are weakly engaged in lexical competition; semantic representations of newly incidentally acquired L2 words are opaque, which limits their integration into semantic networks. Fuzzy lexical representations are likely responsible for the patterns of lexical competition observed in visual world eye-tracking: L2 speakers are slower than L1 speakers in shifting their looks from the image of the competitor to the image of the target.
There is a need to further delineate the nature of L2 lexical representations, account for the sources that contribute to representational fuzziness, and explore the consequences of fuzziness in lexical representations for L2 lexical processing and learning.

We invite contributions reporting behavioral and neurolinguistic studies that explore different aspects of fuzzy lexical representations, as they are engaged in lexical processing and vocabulary learning. With this Frontiers topic, we are hoping to gain a better understanding of when and under what circumstances fuzzy L2 lexical representations emerge, which forces constrain the efficient encoding of L2 lexical representations and contribute to their fuzziness, how they function in L2 processing, and how fuzziness decreases for more familiar L2 words.

Some of the issues we are interested in pursuing are:

● Are fuzzy lexical representations unique to L2, or is fuzziness a general property of less familiar words? What are the L2-specific aspects of fuzzy lexical encoding?
● What factors contribute to fuzzy L2 lexical representations?
● Linguistic properties of words: phonological, orthographic, lexical, semantic, prosodic;
● Psycholinguistic properties of words: lexical frequency, familiarity, imageability, concreteness, etc.;
● Individual factors: working memory and long-term memory capacity, processing speed, cognitive and modality preferences, etc.
● Are the lexical representations of morphologically complex L2 word forms fuzzy, e.g., in grammatically inflected words? This would indicate structural or broader lexico-grammatical fuzziness.
● What is the impact of fuzziness on lexical processing in L2?
● What is the mitigating role of the context in the processing of words with fuzzy lexical representations?
● How do fuzzy lexical representations emerge and evolve over time in naturalistic vocabulary acquisition and in controlled vocabulary training experiments?
● How are L2 words with fuzzy representations stored and which memory systems are engaged?
● What is the role of fuzzy representations in receptive multilingualism (intercomprehension) and communication in closely related languages?

We welcome original research articles, reviews, theoretical articles, methodological articles, as well as brief commentaries/opinion pieces.


Keywords: mental lexicon, second language, vocabulary acquisition, fuzzy lexical representation, lexical competition


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

31 March 2021 Manuscript
30 April 2021 Manuscript Extension

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Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

31 March 2021 Manuscript
30 April 2021 Manuscript Extension

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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