Cross-language Interaction Between the Mental Lexicons in Chinese EFL Learners: The Role of English Proficiency (Advisor: Dr. Gang Cui)

The cross-language interaction between a bilingual’s two lexicons is a crucial question in the exploration of mental lexicon.The investigation of this issue is significant, because it could reveal the underlying processing mechnisms of the second/foreign language, and the relationship between the native language and the target language. At the same time, it has important implications for language teaching. In the last two decades, related studies mainly investigated bilinguals with typologically close languages, and the role of L2 proficiency has been under-presented. The present study examines how cross-language interaction between Chinese EFL learners’ two lexicons is modulated by English proficiency. Specifically, we try to explore the role of English proficieny in the following aspects: 1) the extent of shared semantic representation between translation equivalents in Chinese EFL learners, 2) the lexicosemantic mapping (word form-meaning link) of L1 (Chinese) and L2 (English) words, and 3) the lexical link between English words and its Chinese translation.

The present study enrolled participants of average English proficiency in the same group, including third-year Junior high school students, third-year senior high school students, and English-major graduates. We have carried out four experiments employing instrumentaltasks in the area. Following standard design principlesand considering the characteristics of Chinese stimuli, these experiments were desined. First, we have examined the semantic representation of Chinese and English translation equivalents as a function of L2 proficiency in a word association task in experiment 1. Then, two lexical decision tasks examining translation priming effects are conducted to triangulate the observation in Experiment 1. These two experiments also tapped into the lexicosemantic mapping of L2 words. Experiment 4 employs a translation recognition task to investigate the lexical link from the English word to its Chinese translation.

The results indicate that Chinese EFL learners’ English lexicon gains more independence from their Chinese lexicon. Specifically, the following patterns were observed: 1) in low- and medium-proficiency learners, L2 words are attached to their Chinese translations, and the two lexicons share the semantic representation of L1 words; while in high-proficiency learners, English-specific semantic features are acquired. 2) low- and medium-proficiency learners have not established L2 lexicosemantic mapping, whereas high-proficiency learners have begun to establish such mapping; 3) there is strong L2 to L1 lexical link in low-proficiency learners, and the link strengthens from low- to medium-proficiency group, then weakens from medium- to high-proficiency group.

These findings lead the author to put forward a model especially for Chinese EFL learners, revealing the possible influence of English proficiency in cross-language interaction. This present study has pedagogical implications implications on English vocabulary learning.

Key Words: Chinese EFL learners; English proficiency; mental lexicon; cross-language interaction