The L1 Semantic Retrieval of L2 Words: Evidence from Advanced L2 Learners’ Reaction Times

Amira Abdullah Alshehri


According to the first language (L1) lemma mediation hypothesis, second language learners, regardless of their level of second language (L2) proficiency, access the meaning of L2 words via their first language (Jiang, 2004). To test this hypothesis, a semantic judgment task was conducted on 30 advanced Arab speakers of English, in which they were presented with 86 pairs of English words and had to decide whether each pair was semantically related. Some semantically related pairs are classified as same translation pairs because their members share the same L1 translation, whereas others are semantically related but do not share the same L1 translation, hence they are classified as different translation pairs. Two instruments were used to record the reaction times and determine accuracy: DMDX and Gorilla. The results revealed that the highly proficient L2 speakers rated same translation pairs as semantically related significantly faster than their responses to different translation pairs. When compared with the 28 native speakers’ results, there was a significant difference in the reaction times of the two groups. This provides evidence that the underlying processes of L1 and L2 vocabulary acquisition is substantially different: L2 learners rely on their well-established conceptual system to access the meaning of L2 words.

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World Journal of English Language
ISSN 1925-0703(Print)  ISSN 1925-0711(Online)

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