LINGUIST List 28.3263

Tue Aug 01 2017

Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition: Meara, Miralpeix (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 04-Apr-2017
From: Thi Ngoc Yen Dang <>
Subject: Tools for Researching Vocabulary
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Paul Meara
AUTHOR: Imma Miralpeix
TITLE: Tools for Researching Vocabulary
SERIES TITLE: Second Language Acquisition
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Thi Ngoc Yen Dang, Victoria University of Wellington

REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry


Meara and Miralpeix’(2016) book, ‘Tools for Researching Vocabulary’, was written with the aim to provide beginning researchers who would like to work in the area of second language (L2) vocabulary acquisition with a set of easy-to-use programs to address their own research questions. The book is organized into six main parts, each of which consists of one or more chapters. Each chapter focuses on programs to analyze a certain aspect of vocabulary and has a similar structure. Each chapter starts with a description of the background of the program and an instruction on how to use the program. It is then followed by (1) a background reading which describes a real research project which used this program to address certain research questions, and (2) a set of reflections on the work reported in that reading. The chapter concludes with a list of questions that users may be able to explore with the program presented in the chapter, as well as suggestions for further reading on the topic related to the chapter.

Part 1, ‘Processing vocabulary data’, contains one chapter (Chapter 1), which describes two programs: V_Words v2.0 and V_Lists v1.0. The former helps users to turn texts into word lists as well as counting the number of tokens (running words) and types (unrepeated running words), while the latter allows them to compare items in different word lists. These programs provide readers with basic foundation for their use of other tools presented in the subsequent chapters.

Part 2, ‘Measuring lexical variation, sophistication, and originality’, focuses on lexical richness. This part is comprised of four chapters, each of which focuses on one aspect of lexical richness. Chapter 2 describes D_Tools which calculates lexical variation with Malvern, Richards, Chipere, and Durán’s (2004) D, and Chapter 3 presents the P_Lex v3.00 which helps to calculate lexical sophistication. The other chapters introduce different tools to measure lexical originality: V_LexSig and SigSorter (Chapter 4) and V_Unique (Chapter 5). The V_LexSig and SigSorter compare the words in learners’ compositions. The V_Unique provides users with a quick way to assess learners’ lexical originality. Unlike V_LexSig and SigSorter, the The V_Unique only requires learners to generate a certain number of adjectives to describe a given picture.

Part 3, ‘Estimating vocabulary size’, consists of three chapters which present different programs to analyze vocabulary size. Chapter 6 describes V-YesNo v1.0, which estimates the receptive vocabulary knowledge of test takers. Chapters 7 and 8 focus on programs to estimate the productive vocabulary size through different approaches. The V_Size v2.01 (Chapter 7) expands on Laufer and Nation’s (1995) approach by using lexical profiles to estimate the overall productive vocabulary sizes. The V_Capture v1.0 (Chapter 8), however, is based on the methods used in the field of biology and provides an estimation of the vocabulary size for a specific task.

The next three parts each consists of one chapter which represents a single program. Part 4, ‘Measuring Lexical Access’, introduces Q_Lex. This program helps to measure how easy it is for L2 learners to access a certain number of high-frequency words. Part 5, ‘Assessing Aptitude for L2 vocabulary learning’, discusses LLAMA_B. The motivation behind the development of this program is to provide research students with an environment where they can develop their critical attitude toward the data collection tools rather than to develop a language aptitude test. Part 6, ‘Modelling Vocabulary Growth’, focuses on Mezzofanti v1.0. Unlike other programs presented in this book, Mezzofanti v1.0 generates data rather than processes or collects data. It provides researchers with a way of examining how different languages might interact with each other in a simplified learning environment.


Recently vocabulary has received growing interest from researchers in the field of Applied Linguistics. Together with this trend is the need to provide beginning researchers who are interested in working on the area of L2 vocabulary acquisition with a set of research tools and instructions on how to use them to address their own research questions. Meara and Miralpeix’s (2016) book, ‘Tools for Researching Vocabulary’, is a very timely publication to address this need. Together with Schmitt’s (2010) book, ‘Researching vocabulary: A vocabulary research manual’, and Nation and Webb’s (2011) book, ‘Researching and analyzing vocabulary’, Meara and Miralpeix’s (2016) book is a must-read book for beginning vocabulary researchers.

One remarkable point of this book is its comprehensive structure, which provides a systematic scaffolding for readers when using the tools. Each chapter starts with a background information section which provides readers with key information about the tools. It is then followed by very detailed and easy-to-understand instructions on how to use these programs. Meara and Miralpeix made use of a range of channels to illustrate for their points: texts, screen shots of the program outlook, and online links to the program. Importantly, they not just simply present the tools but also help readers to see how these tools can be used to solve certain research questions by providing relevant examples from real studies and reflections on these studies. This benefits readers in multiple ways. It allows them to consolidate and expand their knowledge of the information presented in the overview. It then makes them realize the value of the tool and link the findings of the studies which used that tool with other studies in the field of vocabulary. Moreover, the chapter does not stop at presenting the tools but also provides readers with suggestions for small-scale research projects where the tools can be applied. This is particularly useful for beginning researchers who still struggle to find worth-investigating but manageable research topics. The scaffolding can be seen not only within each chapter but also between chapters. Throughout the book, Meara and Miralpeix gradually lead readers from very basic tools such as V_Words v2.0 and V_Lists v1.0 to more complicated tools. The information presented in the subsequent chapters is built up and linked with that from previous chapters.

A second strength of this book is that it encourages readers to think critically and creatively about L2 vocabulary research. Meara and Miralpeix neither restrict readers to the tools that they have developed nor impose their thinking on the readers. Instead, they present a balanced assessment of the strengths and limitations of each tool. Moreover, these authors direct learners to other tools if they would like to work with more advanced programs. They also suggest that readers should not just restrict their view and knowledge to a fixed set of tools, or to the area of (applied) linguistics. These authors encourage readers to look wider, apply advances in technology to lighten the workload of the analysis, and see how the application of the tools from other fields can help researchers to address their research questions. This spirit has been maintained throughout the book.

A third strength of this book is the range of topics that it covers. Each chapter focuses on a key area of vocabulary research. In each area, the main topic is picked up, expanded and linked with other topics so that readers can have an overall picture about how the topics fit the broader field. The Author index and Subject index help readers to easily track down the desired information.

Yet, it might be more useful if, in further editions, the Suggestions for Further Readings section consists of some brief sentences about the information that readers may find useful from that reference. This would provide beginning researchers with better support in the selection of their reading materials.

On the whole, Meara and Miralpeix’s (2016) book, ‘Tools for Researching Vocabulary’, has successfully provided a timely contribution to the area of L2 vocabulary acquisition. There is no doubt that this book is a valuable reference for final year undergraduates and master students in Applied Linguistics, second language acquisition, psycholinguistics, and testing. This book is also useful for PhD students who have little background knowledge of the tools for researching vocabulary but would like to work in this field.


Laufer, B., & Nation, P. (1995). Vocabulary size and use: Lexical richness in L2 written production. Applied Linguistics, 16(3), 307–322.

Malvern, D., Richards, B., Chipere, N., & Durán, P. (2004). Lexical diversity and language development: Quantification and assessment. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Meara, P., &Miralpeix, I. (2016). Tools for Researching Vocabulary. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Nation, I. S. P., & Webb, S. (2011). Researching and analyzing vocabulary. Boston: Heinle, Cengage Learning.

Schmitt, N. (2010). Researching vocabulary: A vocabulary research manual. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


Thi Ngoc Yen Dang is a lecturer at Hanoi University of Languages and International Studies, Vietnam National University. She is also a PhD candidate in the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Her research interests include vocabulary studies and corpus linguistics.

Page Updated: 01-Aug-2017