Tefl 279 Rich View Of Lexical Competence 4

Topics: Linguistics, Meaning of life, Word Pages: 9 (3832 words) Published: February 21, 2015
A rich view of lexical
competence
Peter J. Robinson

In this article I begin by examining
some features of the negotiation
of
meaning between learners and teachers, where the goal of the interaction is to convey the meaning of a technical word from the teacher to a learner. I suggest that this examination
leads us to distinguish
between the declarative knowledge
‘that’ words have particular meanings, and the procedures we typically employ for realizing or ‘achieving’ this declarative knowledge. These procedures
form part of our ‘procedural’
knowledge
of ‘how’ to
negotiate. A communicative
view of the interactive nature of lexical negotiation requires that we focus as much on procedures as we do on the more narrowly defined declarative meanings which specialist words have. I then argue that this requires us to take a ‘richer’ view of what is involved in lexical competence

than that which many vocabulary learning materials
seem to be based on. My own proposal is to adopt Canale and Swain’s (1980) checklist of the dimensions
of communicative
competence,
and I
present exercise types which exemplify
how these dimensions
could be
covered lexically.

General words,
technical words, and
negotiating meaning

There is an obvious,
and much-investigated
difference
between
specific,
technical
words and the more general
‘core’ words often used to convey
their meanings.1
The enabling
facility which some words have has long
been recognized.
It is particularly
evident
in the simplified
language
of
‘motherese’
and ‘foreigner
talk’, and is as much in evidence
in written
language
as in spoken language2.
For example,
the enabling
facility of
words is a criterion
for selecting
the words used in dictionary
definitions,
like this one from the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English:

vermicelli: a food made from flour paste in the form of very thin strings which

have

been

dried

and are made

soft again

by boiling.

The enabling facility of such words as made soft, the form of thin strings, etc., is a feature too of the subtechnical
language
used in the oral explanation
of
more technical
concepts.
Hutchinson
and Waters
(1981) have demonstrated the difficulty which learners face in coping with these words. They claim that it is not the performance
repertoire
of a technical,
specialist
vocabulary
which is called on in giving and understanding
technical
explanations,
but language
like:
‘Now copper is a.
. is very ductile. What do we mean by ductile? -It’ll
stretch - we
can stretch it, we can change its shape, yes.’ (1981: 6)
Hutchinson
274

and Waters

conclude

from their observations

that ‘the student

ELT Journal Volume 43/4 October 1989 © Oxford UniversityPress 1989

articles

welcome

does not need the specific vocabulary
of his [sic] subject
area prior to
starting
his course. He needs the ability to recognize
the glossing
techniques whereby
teachers
introduce
specific terms, and the ability to ask
questions
when an explanation
is not given. But the basic resource of both
these strategies
is a fund of general vocabulary
in which the explanation
will be expressed.’
(1981: 6-7).
These
‘general’
words are thrown
up, together
with more ‘specific’
words, in any frequency
count of a specific language area. Widdowson
calls
words like do ‘procedural’.
They take on the indexical value which particular contexts
attribute
to them, while having little independent
meaning
themselves
(1983: 92). Sinclair
and Renouf, working
on the COBUILD
corpus of English text, have also identified
the fact that these words tend to
change their meaning
depending
on the textual context in which they are
embedded.
They refer to such words as ‘delexical’
(1988),
Asserting and
assimilating
meanings

In fact the two types of words seem to correspond
to two different ways of
meaning.
Type 1 words, general...

References: Canale, M. 1983. ‘From communicative
competence
Canale, M. and M. Swain. 1980. ‘Theoretical
bases of
Carter, R. 1986. ‘Core vocabulary
and discourse
Cramp, A. 1987. ‘Setting up a computer
networking
Gairns, R. and S. Redman. 1986. Working with Words.
Hasan, R. 1984. ‘Coherence
and cohesive harmony’
Hutchinson, T. and A. Waters. 1981. ‘Performance
and competence
McCarthy, M. J. 1984. ‘A new look at vocabulary
in
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