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Review of  Cognitive Linguistics, Second Language Acquisition, and Foreign Language Teaching

Reviewer: Liang Chen
Book Title: Cognitive Linguistics, Second Language Acquisition, and Foreign Language Teaching
Book Author: Michel Achard Susanne Niemeier
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Cognitive Science
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 15.1868

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Date: Sat, 19 Jun 2004 01:11:09 -0500
From: Liang Chen
Subject: Cognitive Linguistics, SLA, and Foreign Language Teaching

EDITOR: Achard, Michel; Niemeier, Susanne
TITLE: Cognitive Linguistics, Second Language Acquisition,
and Foreign Language Teaching
SERIES: Studies on Language Acquisition 18
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2004

Liang Chen, University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The book under review is the 18th one of 'Studies on
Language Acquisition' series published by Mouton de
Gruyter. In addition to an introductory chapter by the
editors, it consists of 11 contributions on second language
acquisition and pedagogy unified by the framework of
cognitive linguistics. In this review, I will first briefly
report the content of each chapter, and then focus on the
issue of the relevance of cognitive linguistics to language
pedagogy. It is the main claim of this review that we need
to take caution when we are trying to apply any theoretical
framework to language pedagogy, and cognitive linguistics
is no exception. As Dirven (2001) rightly points out,
applied work must be based upon the best possible
descriptive work, and applied linguists must approach
descriptive work critically.

In ''Introduction: Cognitive linguistics, language
acquisition, and pedagogy'' (pp.1-11), MICHEL ACHARD &
SUSANNE NIEMEIER introduces aspects of cognitive
linguistics (e.g., the symbolic function of language,
meaning as conceptualization, the usage-based model) that
are relevant to specific issues of second language learning
and teaching dealt with by the other contributors in the
rest of the book. They regard 'the cognitive linguistic
model as a valuable framework for the investigation of
second language learning and teaching phenomena' (p. 9).

In ''Expressing motion events in a second language: A
cognitive typological perspective'' (pp. 13-49), TERESA
CADIERNO is interested in whether differences in expressing
motion events exist between Danish learners of Spanish and
native speakers of Spanish on the one hand, and between
using the native language and the second language by Danish
speakers on the other. The starting point is Talmy's (1985)
typological framework of motion events, according to which
Danish may be classified as a satellite-framed language
where Path is typically expressed by an elaborate system of
satellites and Manner and Cause of motion are typically
encoded in the verb (p. 20), whereas Spanish as verb-framed
language where Path tends to be encoded in the verb with
Manner and Cause of motion encoded separately (p.21).
Sixteen adult Danish learners of Spanish and sixteen native
speakers of Spanish read a wordless picture book (i.e., the
frog story), and the written narrative data elicited were
then subject to both quantitative and qualitative analyses.
As reported by Cadierno, results 'do not show a consistent
picture with respect to the role of the learner's L1 in the
L2 expression of motion events' (p. 42). Limitations of the
study, particularly of the experimental design, and future
directions are pointed out toward the end of the paper.

In ''Construal, convention, and constructions in L2
speech'' (pp. 51-75), RENEE WAARA presents a usage-based
approach to learner constructions, which are defined as
constructions (meaning-syntax correspondences) 'used in a
slightly unconventional manner' (p. 53). Data extracted
from two corpora (a nonnative speaker corpus and a native
speaker corpus) from a speaking test were analyzed, and
learners' uncertainty about the permissible argument
structures of light verbs like 'get' in English is argued
to be 'realized by the emergence of conceptual blends,
elements of transfer, and over-generalizations' (p. 64).

In ''Input versus transfer? - The role of frequency and
similarity in the acquisition of L2 prepositions'' (pp. 77-
94), WANDER LOWIE & MARJOLIJN VERSPOOR deal with the extent
to which L2 lexical development (with a focus on
prepositions) is related to the frequency of L2 input or
L1/L2 similarity (i.e., L1 transfer). Seventy-five Dutch
learners of English at four different levels of proficiency
took a cloze test 'consisting of 25 rather simple English
sentences, with the blank to be filled with a targeted
prepositions' (p. 84). The frequency and similarities of
the targeted prepositions in Dutch and English were
obtained through CELEX/COBUILD corpus (Baayen, Piepenbrock
& van Rijn, 1993). Results show that while students of the
low and intermediate levels of proficiency are sensitive to
both similarity and frequency, students of the highest
level of proficiency are not. One word of caution is
relevant here. The relative frequency of prepositions in
the corpus does not necessarily correspond to the frequency
of prepositions in the actual input the students receive.
Therefore, validity of the experimental design is

In ''Linguistic and cultural diversity - Reconsidered for
the foreign language classroom'' (pp. 95-118), SUSANNE
NIEMEIER discusses 'how the renewed attention to relativity
in language and culture may be relevant to current
tendencies in foreign language teaching methodology' (p.
95). Through an examination of the insights provided by
cognitive linguistic approach to categorization and
prototypicality, as well as to metaphor and metonymy, Dr.
Niemeier claims that the framework of cognitive linguistics
is compatible with most of current pedagogical concerns
with 'awareness raising, the learning objective of
intercultural competence, the targets of autonomous
learning, multi-channel learning, holistic learning and
teaching as well as the action-oriented approach to
learning' (p. 96).

In ''The figure/ground gestalt and language teaching
methodology'' (pp. 119-141), PETER GRUNDY argues that
'decontextualized, discrete-item, or segmental approaches
to language teaching cannot work', because 'language
structures crucially depend, just as visual objects do, on
a background which shows their salience' (p.138). Other
issues considered as implications of the figure/ground
gestalt include (a) reconceptualizing level of
difficulty/ease of linguistic categories as their level of
salience, (b) the choice of instruction materials, and (c)
'the relationship between varied repetition, figure and
ground, and learning' (p. 138).

In '''Cultural scripts': A new medium for ethnopragmatic
instruction'' (pp. 143-163), CLIFF GODDARD examines the
potential pedagogical applications of the 'cultural
scripts' (i.e., statement about cultural norms of various
kinds) approach to the teaching of cultural pragmatics
(ethnopragmatics). Examples from English and Malay (Bahasa
Melayu) are used to illustrate the pedagogical applications
of such an approach, which is claimed to be able to not
only 'identify and describe culturally preferred speech
patterns' but to spell out the links between language-
specific speech patterns with the cultural values and
attitudes of the people concerned (p. 143).

In ''Grammatical instruction in the natural approach: A
cognitive grammar view'' (pp. 165-194), MICHEL ACHARD
suggests that the insights of cognitive grammar regarding
language organization can be incorporated to make
grammatical instruction an integral part of the Natural
Approach to L2 teaching without compromising its principles
and practices.

In ''Teaching temporal connectors and their prototypical
non-temporal extensions'' (pp. 195-210), ANGELIKI
ATHANASIADOU argues that the temporal meanings of English
temporal connectors such as when, as long as, since are
systematically related to their non-temporal extensions. As
the title suggests, the non-temporal meanings of these
temporal connectors are argued to be prototypical, and are
'systematically based on the their temporal idiosyncrasies'
(p. 195). It is suggested and illustrated that the more
specific, non-temporal meanings be made explicit in
language classroom. This study reminds the reviewer of the
study of Tyler & Evans (2001), who argue that the non-
temporal meanings of tense in English are systematic and
motivated extension of 'temporal reference meaning' via a
process of 'pragmatic strengthening'.

In ''Expanding learners' vocabulary through metaphor
awareness: What expansion, what learners, what vocabulary?''
(pp. 211-232), FRANK BOERS first reviews several
experimental studies showing the short term effects of 'an
enhanced metaphor awareness' (p. 211) on vocabulary
learning, and then discusses the type of expansion, the
type of learners, and the kind of vocabulary that may best
benefit from the awareness. In a sense, this paper serves
as a blue print for future research on how language
learners can best benefit from the metaphor awareness in
their expansion of vocabulary in the target language.

In ''A cognitive linguistic view of polysemy in English and
its implications for teaching'' (pp. 233-256), SZILVIA CSÁBI
reports two experiments examining the facilitative role of
explaining the related senses of polysemous words
(specifically, hold and keep in English) and their
motivations on vocabulary development in a second language.
The point of departure is the idea that 'the meaning
structure of polysemous words is motivated and can be
accounted for in a systematic way' (p. 233). Consequently,
explicit knowledge of motivated meanings (e.g., conceptual
metaphor, conceptual metonymy, and convention) in the
target language should facilitate learning and teaching.
The lesson to take home is that 'besides memorization,
awareness and acquisition of the cognitive structure of
word meanings aids teaching and learning' (p. 233).

In ''Applying cognitive linguistics to pedagogical grammar:
The case of over'' (pp. 257-280), ANDREA TYLER & VYVYAN
EVANS attempt to illustrate the relevance of cognitive
linguistics to language teaching by examining the semantics
of over, whose multiple distinct meanings (e.g., transfer,
completion, on-the-other-side) are not arbitrary nor
accidental, 'but rather that they are related to each other
in systematic ways represented by an organized semantic
network' (p. 260). A lesson plan for presenting the
multiple meanings of over to second language learners is
also suggested incorporating the cognitive linguistic
insight into prepositional meanings. Interested readers may
want to read this paper alongside Queller's (2001) study on
'the pedagogical applications of an entirely new, usage-
based analysis of selected parts of the network for the
English prepositional/adverbial particle over' (pp. 55-56),
and see how different cognitive linguists may treat the
same lexical item differently.

The major purpose of Cognitive Linguistics, Second Language
Acquisition, and Foreign Language Teaching is to stimulate
researchers on SLA to rethink their acquisition view or to
investigate the pedagogical applications of cognitive
linguistics. Two applications are most prominent. First,
the systematicity, non-arbitrariness, motivations of
linguistic structures (particularly at the lexical level)
should be made explicit to L2 learners in the classroom,
and explicit instruction of metaphoric motivation can
facilitate the learning of idiomatic expressions. Second,
L2 teaching and learning can and should be embedded within
its cultural contexts, e.g., via the teaching of construal
and cultural scripts. These are certainly important
suggestions, as '[T]he emergence of another language
directs attention to the bi-directional influence between
the two language, highlights the decisive role of the
interplay of language and culture in shaping meaning, and
shifts the explanatory movement from the linguistic level
to the conceptual level' (Kecskes, 2002, p. 1). However,
there are several things for concern that I want to address

First of all, conceptualization figures prominent in
cognitive linguistics, and most authors in this volume
regard it important to explain the conceptual motivation of
linguistic forms to the second language learners. This may
indeed seems necessary, as second language learners may be
forced to rely on linguistic forms rather than
conceptualizations while processing the target language due
to a lack or low level of 'conceptual fluency' (Kecskes,
2002, p. 133). However, the physical or physiological
motivations of language are rarely mentioned, if any at
all, by any of the authors. Also, learning a second
language by using it, which is consistent with the usage-
based model of language development, is not stressed. A
huge number of image schemas have been proposed in the
literature of cognitive linguistics. Will the classroom
time be well spent explaining these image schemas and
related constructs in cognitive linguistics to the second
language learners? Wouldn't interactive exposure to large
quantities of natural speech in context (Langacker, 2001)
and significant immersion in the target language (Kecskes,
2001) be more motivating and authentic pedagogical
practices? This is an empirical matter, but so far, no
carefully designed and well controlled studies seem to be

Second, cognitive linguistics is 'descriptive' and
'functional' in nature. We would expect that discussions of
the applications of cognitive linguistics would focus on
the 'functional' aspect of language and language use. As
the readers can find themselves from the above brief review
of the content, this is not the case. However, knowing a
language doesn't guarantee accurate, appropriate and fluent
use of the language. This problem is especially obvious in
second language acquisition. Yoshida (1990, p. 20) has made
this very clear when he says '. although I might have
knowledge of what to say with who in what circumstances,
that does not necessarily mean that I am able to perform
accordingly. Moreover, even if I could perform in an
''American'' way if I consciously strived to do so, that does
not mean that I feel comfortable doing so' (cited in
Kecsceks, 2002, p. 183).

Third, while all the papers in this volume attempt to
relate the ASSUMPTIONS of cognitive linguistics to
pedagogical issues, the relation is not always obvious. In
fact, sometimes the connection is so far-fetched that one
gets the impression of going for fad. Most of the time,
authors are speculating about pedagogical issues without
benefit of empirical data or experimental evidence. One
cannot help wondering whether 'the details and concomitant
complexity of the discussion' are appropriate for L2
teaching and learning (cf. Tyler & Evans, 2001, p.98).
Language teachers are often urged to integrate theoretical
insights in the cognitive processes underlying and
determining language in use and to bring to the learner's
consciousness the conceptualizations conventionally
associated with the structures of the target language.
Again, the pedagogical significance of consciousness
raising as used by many cognitive linguists still calls for
carefully designed and well controlled empirical studies,
without which the so-called applied cognitive linguistics
may fare no better than the long criticized ''arm-chair''
fantasy. Moreover, if cognitive linguistics 'dwells in the
streams of human experience' and 'grapples with how human
beings actually make sense of their world' (Fesmire, 1994,
p.150), and if we would expect a more balanced focus on
both conceptual and physical-material aspects of language
acquisition (Chen, 2004). Given the experiential and
pragmatic background of language-in-use, a more relevant
suggestion would be to 'put the students into the world of
the target language, beginning with brief and simple
episodes of experience and progressing to more complex
ones' (Oller, 1993, p. 51).

Baayen, H., Piepenbrock, R., & van Rijn, H. (1993). The
CELE lexical database (CD-ROM). Philadelphia: Linguistic
Data Consortium, University of Pennsylvania.

Chen, L. (2004). Review of Pütz, M., Niemeier, N., and
Dirven, R. (2001) (eds.). Applied Cognitive Linguistics.
Vol. I and Vol.II. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Applied Linguistics, 25(3), 440-443.

Dirven, R. (2001). English phrasal verbs: theory and
didactic application. In Pütz, M., Niemeier, N., and
Dirven, R. (eds.), Applied cognitive linguistics II:
Language pedagogy (pp. 3-27). Berlin/New York: Mouton de

Kecskes, I. (2001). The 'graded salience hypothesis' in
second language acquisition. In Pütz, M., Niemeier, N., and
Dirven, R. (eds.), Applied cognitive linguistics I:
Theory and language acquisition (pp. 249-269). Berlin/New
York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Kecskes, I. (2002). Situation-bound utterances in L1 and
L2. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Langacker, Ronald W. (2001). Cognitive linguistics,
language pedagogy, and the English present tense. In Pütz,
M., Niemeier, N., and Dirven, R. (eds.), Applied cognitive
linguistics I: Theory and language acquisition (pp. 3-39).
Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Oller, John W., Jr. (1993). An integrated pragmatic
curriculum: A Spanish program. In Oller, J. W., Jr. (Ed.),
Methods That Work: Ideas for Literacy and Language Teachers.
Boston, MA: Heinle and Heinle. (pp. 50-62).

Queller, K. (2001). Modelling and teaching the phrasal
lexicon. In Pütz, M., Niemeier, N., and Dirven, R. (eds.),
Applied cognitive linguistics II: Language pedagogy (pp. 55-83).
Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Tyler, A. & Evans, V. (2001). The relation between
experience, conceptual structure and meaning: non-temporal
uses of tense and language teaching. In Pütz, M., Niemeier,
N., and Dirven, R. (eds.), Applied cognitive linguistics I:
Theory and language acquisition (pp. 63-105). Berlin/New York:
Mouton de Gruyter.

Yoshida, K. (1990). Knowing vs. behaving vs. feeling:
Studies on Japanese bilinguals. In L. A. Arena (ed.),
Language proficiency. New York: Plenum Press.
Liang Chen is a doctoral candidate in Applied Language and
Speech Sciences in the Department of Communicative
Disorders at University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His
current research includes theoretical semiotics, language
assessment, discourse processes, and second language
acquisition. Other interests include syntactic theory and
Chinese linguistics.

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