Gallaudet University Department of Linguistics presents

“Applying Cognitive Linguistics to Second Language Learning: Experimental Evidence” by Andrea Tyler, PhD Georgetown University

February 7, 2014 SAC 1011, 12:30 PM


In this talk, I will discuss the results of an effects-of-instruction study examining the efficacy of applying a Cognitive Linguistic approach to L2 learning of the semantics of English modals. Modal verbs are recognized as one of the most difficult areas for L2 learners. One of the complicating factors is each modal has two senses—a root sense and an epistemic sense. Under traditional accounts, the two meanings are represented as homophones, failing to address any systematic semantic patterning in the modal system as a whole. Additionally, ELT texts tend to present modals from a superficial functional perspective, focusing on various speech acts in which they commonly occur. Since several modals can occur in the same speech act and each modal can occur in more than one speech act, under the speech act presentation their distribution and meaning appear to be largely idiosyncratic. Such accounts leave both the teacher and the learner with the impression that the only approach to mastering modals is memorization. In contrast, CL analyses (i.e., Talmy, 1988 and Sweetser, 1990) offer both a systematic, principled representation of the relationship between the root and epistemic meanings and a rather precise representation of the semantics of each modal. Central to the analysis is the insight that humans regularly use knowledge from the physical-spatial domain to think and communicate about non-physical domains.

The study demonstrates that teaching modals from a CL perspective enables advanced learners of English to more effectively use modals in their writing than learners presented with a traditional account. The subjects involved two pools of adult ESL learners, an experimental group which received instruction based on a CL perspective and a control group which received traditional instruction. Results of an ANOVA indicated the experimental group experienced significantly more improvement than the control group.

Andrea Tyler has been a professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University since 1994 and an associated faculty member at Georgetown Law Center from 2005-2009. Her work focuses on usage based, multi-dimensional approaches to language and their applications language learning. In particular, her recent research involves both development of Cognitive Linguistic theory and its application to issue in second language learning.

She has authored three books: The semantics of English Prepositions: Spatial scenes, embodied meaning, and cognition (with Vyvyan Evans) (CUP), US Legal Discourse: Legal English for Foreign LLMs (with Craig Hoffman) (West Publishing), Cognitive Linguistics and Second Language Learning: Theoretical basics and experimental evidence (Routledge), which won the 2013 BAAL Book Award. She has also co-edited two volumes: Language In Use (Georgetown University Press) and Language in the Context of Use (Mouton de Gruyter). Her work has appeared in numerous edited volumes, encyclopedias and refereed journals, including Spatial Cognition and Computation, Language and Cognition, Cognition, Language, Journal of Pragmatics, Discourse & Society, Text, Studies in Second Language Acquisition, Belgium Journal of Linguistics, Journal of Applied Linguistics, Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, and Journal of Memory and Language.


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