Effects of lexical class and word frequency on the L1 and L2 English-based lexical connections

Alla Zareva


Three groups of participants—L1 speakers of English, L2 advanced, and intermediate users of English—responded in writing to a word association test containing words balanced for lexical class (nouns, verbs, adjectives) and frequency of occurrence (high, mid, low). The questions addressed in the study concerned the way two word-related factors (i.e., lexical category and word frequency) interplayed with two learner-related characteristics (i.e., proficiency and word familiarity) and influenced 1) the participants’ knowledge of vocabulary, 2) their preference to build specific types of lexical connections among the words they know, and 3) their ability to maintain networks of associations as an indicator of the connectivity of their lexicons. The findings revealed a complex picture of interactions between the word-related and learner-related factors but, whenever the effects of the variables could be disentangled, proficiency and lexical class had a stronger influence on the organization of the L1 and L2 lexicons than word frequency alone.


lexical connectivity; word associations; structure of the L1 and L2 mental lexicon; effects of lexical class, word frequency, proficiency level, and word familiarity.

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