International Journal of Applied Linguistics

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Volume 10 Issue 2 (December 2000), Pages 163-291

Vocabulary acquisition: acquiring depth of knowledge through network building (pages 221-240)

Lexical progression involves a process of network building whereby learners acquire depth of lexical knowledge. This includes the knowledge of a word's different sense relations, paradigmatic as well as syntagmatic, to other words. The focus of this article is a longitudinal study of young foreign language learners’acquisition of English adjectives. A series of tasks were developed to tap lexical relations between adjectives of emotion, e.g. the paradigmatic relations of synonymy and gradation, in order to study how a particular adjective such as thrilled finds its place among other near‐synonymous expressions in the subfield HAPPY. Data were collected over a three‐year period, so it was possible to study learner performance over time as well as across tasks. Findings revealed that network building is an extremely slow process and that some subfields are much more difficult than others. With the help of qualitative analyses, an account is given of the way in which particular adjectives become enmeshed – or fail to become enmeshed – in the meaning network of related words in the lexical field.

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