his or her L2 proficiency level (Yorio, 1989). Moreover, research indicates that the number of idioms acquired is positively correlated with the degree of success on communicative tasks, suggesting a close connection between idiom acquisition and communicative ability (Duquette, 1995; Schmitt 2004).
2.15 The Dual coding theory
The dual coding theory by Paivio (1991) is a general theory which accounts for both verbal and nonverbal cognition. It has been advanced recently as a theory of literacy. Simply put, the theory claims that language is usually processed mentally through verbal and nonverbal decoding. The verbal code involves all forms of spoken and written language and the nonverbal code deals with the representation of nonverbal objects, events, and situations. Imagery is a major form of nonverbal code. The process of decoding verbal and nonverbal codes can happen simultaneously. A word can be understood successfully if its learners are able to access both verbal and nonverbal codes. However, learners will have less access to abstract language than to concrete language because for the former, it is hard to come up with a concrete image and thus the decoding of nonverbal codes is not successful. This accounts for the reason why a concrete word like tree can be better memorized by learners than an abstract word true. When this theory is applied to idiom comprehension, etymological elaboration is likely to help learners call up a mental image by activating the literal or original usage of a figurative idiom in specific source domain or context. The verbal information of the idiom is therefore encoded in a dual fashion, and with the help of a mental image learners are believed to recall the figurative meaning more easily.
2.16 Etymological elaboration
However, idioms are much more than ‘decorative icing’ to the language; they are an integral feature of both written and spoken English. The ability to comprehend and use idiomatic language is one of the distinguishing marks of native-like competence (Cowie&Mackin, 1975). Furthermore, research conducted in cognitive semantics over the last 30 years has provided ample evidence that figurative language, including idiomatic expressions, is to a large extent semantically motivated and governed by the same cognitive principles that govern other linguistic behavior (Boers, 2004; Glucksberg, 2001; K?veces&Szab?, 1996). These findings inspired new and more pedagogically sound approaches to the teaching of L2 idioms.
One way of helping learners recognize the semantic motivation behind idiomatic expressions is to draw their attention to the etymology of these expressions, their original use or the context in which they originated. Etymological awareness can be built by providing learners with the relevant information about the idiom origin or by asking them to hypothesize about the origin of the phrases before the etymological feedback is provided – a procedure known as etymological elaboration ( Boers, 2004).
The pedagogical benefits of etymological association are believed to be multifold. Firstly, understanding the idiom’s origin helps learners establish the connections between the literal and figurative meanings, which in turn facilitates imagery processing. According to the dual-coding theory (Paivio, 1971), information that is presented both verbally and visually is stored and retrieved more easily than information presented through one modality only. Therefore, the formation of mental images for figurative idioms is expected to facilitate their retention and recall. Another advantage of etymological elaboration is that it increases learners’ awareness of the historical background of figurative expressions, promoting a better understanding of the target culture. Variation in metaphor use is believed to reflect the established world views of a particular language community (Boers et al., 2004). Therefore, etymological understanding can offer learners a deeper insight into beliefs, values and practices that motivated specific linguistic expressions, making them more memorable. The mnemonic effect of etymological elaboration has been tested in a number of experimental studies. In an experiment by Boers (2001), a group of 54 Dutch-speaking students were asked to confirm the meaning of ten figurative idioms in a dictionary. The follow-up task for the experimental group was to hypothesize about the origin of the expressions, while the control was asked to think of the suitable context for each of the target expressions. The experimental group did significantly better than the control group on tests of both receptive and productive idiom knowledge.
Boers, (2004) examined the effect of etymological elaboration on the acquisition of transparent and opaque figurative idioms and found that: 1) a significant number of idioms are etymologically transparent to the learners; 2) information about the idiom’s origin can help learners infer the meaning of the figurative phrases; 3) etymological elaboration can have a positive mnemonic effect in the case of both transparent and opaque idioms.Boers ,(2007) conducted a series of experiments that examined the extent to which knowledge of the idiom’s origin can facilitate the comprehension of their figurative use. Rather than providing etymological information to the learners, the learners were asked to makehypotheses about the source domains of the idiomatic phrases, their meanings and their level of formality. The assumption was that higher cognitive involvement that that the tasks entailed would lead to a deeper level of input processing, and ultimately higher rates of retention. The mnemonic effect of this approach was tested through a gap-fill task where the learners were presented with a meaningful context and asked to supply the missing key-words from the target phrases. The results confirmed the hypothesis: the students’ were more likely to guess the idiom meaning correctly if they first identified the source domains. Those idioms were also more likely to be remembered.
Bagheri and Fazel (2010) replicated the study by Boers et al., (2007) with Iranian learners of English. They also found that etymological elaboration enhanced learners’ comprehension and retention of idioms. However, not all experimental data indicate a positive effect of etymological information. A study conducted by Szczepaniak and Lew (2011) compared the effectiveness of different methods of evoking imagery processing. Four different formats of idiom presentation were examined:
1) definition of idiomatic meaning + example sentence;
2) definition of idiomatic meaning + example + etymological note;
3) definition of idiomatic meaning + example + picture;
4) definition of idiomatic meaning + example + picture + etymological note.
The participants in the study were randomly assigned to one of the four treatment conditions and presented with 18 idioms to learn. The effectiveness of the four modes of idiom presentation was assessed on the immediate and delayed post-tests, which took place a week after the treatment. Both tests had the same format: the students were first asked to write the full form of the target idiom based on one lexical component (a productive knowledge test) and to then select the best paraphrase of the idiom meaning out of four options (a receptive knowledge test). The results of the study showed that pictorial support had a significantly stronger effect on idiom learning than the presence of etymological notes.
The authors attributed the results to a potentially distracting effect of etymological notes. Information about the idiom’s origin may have diverted the learners’attention from the current usage while superficial reading of the etymological notes may have resulted in the entries being mixed up. One reason for the differences in the findings may be due to the way etymological information was presented. In the experiments conducted by Boers and his colleagues, the learners were asked to hypothesize about the idiom origin, while in the Szczepaniak and L
ew study thelearners worked with etymological notes extracted from L2 idiom dictionaries. The former task required more cognitive effort leading to deeper information processing, and consequently, stronger memory traces and higher retention rates.On the other hand, since etymological elaboration provides learners with more information for comprehension, it takes a longer time as well as several steps for learners to process received information. The benefits of multi-step processing are supported by the levels of processing theory. In general, the theory stresses the following main points:
1. The early stages of processing are “shallow” and involve coding the stimulus in terms of its physical characteristics (e.g. the visual characteristics of the letters and typeface in which a word is printed, or the acoustic features of a sound). “Deep” processing involves coding the stimulus more abstractly in terms of its meaning.
2. Rehearsing material by simple rote repetition is classified as shallow processing. Rehearsing material by exploring its meaning and linking it to semantically associated words is classified as deep processing.
3. Retention of an item is dependent on the depth or level of processing carried out on to-be remembered material. Superficial processing leads only to shallow, short-term retention; deep processing leads to efficient, durable retention.
With etymological elaboration, the processing of a figurative idiom can take place at several levels. For example, learners will first have a shallow processing of the idiom by accessing its figurative meaning roughly from context; then, they will be given etymological information of the idiom through an activation of its literal use or origins. Meanwhile, they are likely to come up with a mental image of the figurative idiom and store it with other verbal clues. Thus, a figurative idiom is likely to be remembered more deeply through this multi-level processing.
Etymology is briefly defined as the scientific study of the origins and history of the changing meanings and forms of words (Ross, 1969). Application of etymology to L2 vocabulary learning has long been embraced by ESL specialists. Pierson (1989) proposed a pedagogy with etymology instruction at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. In particular, he tried to encourage meaningful vocabulary learning in ESL by incorporating knowledge of words’ origins. Two examples are noteworthy in his work. The first example is concerned with active learning of new words in reading materials. Typically, Pierson’s students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong were dictionary-dependent and prone to consult dictionaries instinctively whenever they encountered new words in reading. Therefore, Pierson proposed to them a learning strategy that whenever possible, try to use an advanced learner dictionary and find out the origins of the words, not just to simply get their meanings. In one reading he presented as an example, his students had to find out the origins of three new words: fascinate, precludes, and cranial.Their consulting results revealed that fascinate and precludes are from a Latin origin and cranial has a Greek antecedent. Then, students were required to go back to the reading and analyze the contexts of those three words with reference to their origins. In such a way, Pierson’s students were able to acquire vocabulary through a deeper level of comprehension during their process of examining word origins. In his second example, Pierson tried to help his science students establish connections between abstract technical vocabulary in English and material origins. Specifically, when examined etymologically, the word calculus can be traced back to its Latin antecedent calx/calcis, which means pebble and was used as a unit of measurement. Such an etymological insight helped Pierson’s student understand the