Foreign Language Semantic Categorization: Evidence From the Semantic Network and Word Connections

Document Type : Research Article


Department of Modern Philologies, Faculty of Letters and Education, University of La Rioja, Logroño, Spain



Categorization is an essential cognitive activity to make sense of the world. Category-generating and word association studies help us elucidate how learners organize words in the mind. Categorization can indicate how learners acquire new vocabulary and how they use it to interpret reality. The present study analyses the word retrieval mechanisms of two groups of learners by looking into the word-pair associations produced as a response to a category-generation task. These associations in response to two semantic categories: countryside and animals were classified and scrutinized for shared patterns. Differences and similarities between semantic categories, and proficiency level of learners were explored. Results revealed learners favour coordination as the preferred mechanism for word attachment and retrieval, followed by event-based associations (metaphorical/ contextual and experiential knowledge). Although frequencies vary significantly depending on L2 proficiency and semantic category, associational behaviours are comparable, with a preference for semantic associations over formal and presence of both taxonomic and thematic associations. The implications of these findings can reach the EFL classroom by informing which words to teach together and through which strategies.