Musings about language and literacy and learning

An Ontogenesis Model of Word Learning in a Second Language

Ontogenesis model

A recent paper caught my eye, Ontogenesis Model of the L2 Lexical Representation, and despite the immediate mind glazing effect of the word “ontogenesis,” I found the model well worth digging into and sharing here—and it may bear relevance to conversations on orthographic mapping.

How we learn words and all their phonological, morphological, orthographic, and semantic characteristics is a fascinating topic of research—most especially in the areas of written word recognition and in the learning of a new language.

This paper thus struck me as an especially insightful attempt to synthesize much of that research. To be clear: this is a model that has not been directly tested, but it seems well-aligned to other theories like orthographic mapping and the lexical quality hypothesis, as well as explain some of the tension between regularity and irregularity in word forms and frequency.

“In intentional word learning from definitions, L2 words with easily encoded orthographic form are better retained. In incidental word learning, words with unusual form are more salient and more easily detected.”

I enjoyed especially the visualizations of phonological, orthographic, and semantic mapping and how they can develop at different rates and trajectories but with interdependence.

A couple of terms that are key to the ontogenesis model (the authors should perhaps come up with a catchier name):

These concepts give us a way of visualizing, as per the graphs above, how different dimensions of a word may develop over time. Our goal, of course, is to reach optimum encoding across the sounds, spelling, and meaning so that it is anchored in our long-term memory (i.e. fluent, automatic access and retrieval).

“Each lexical entry can comprise representations from the three domains, and each representation is interconnected with other representations of the same type. Each domain representation can thus develop its own, idiosyncratic network of connections to other representations. Together they constitute the phonological, orthographic, and semantic networks in the mental lexicon.

“The model sees a word’s lexical integration as a gradual process, in which connections to other representations grow in number and strength until the optimum is potentially reached. The optimum in this dimension can be described as an adequately rich network of appropriate connections. Fuzziness in this dimension then refers primarily to an inadequate number of connections to other representations (typically too few) and/or to their inadequate strength (typically too weak), as well as inappropriate connections (e.g., an erroneous connection between the phonological forms of through
and dough due to the influence of orthography).”

The added complexity of learning words in a new language is that there are variable interactions across phonological, orthographic, and semantic dimensions with our native language.

“Depending on the grapheme-phoneme relationship between the L1 and L2 and within L2, simultaneous acquisition of orthographic information may thus move the phonological representation closer to or further away from its optimum (and vice versa). Furthermore, the effect of L1 orthography on spoken word recognition in L2 is modulated by L2 proficiency and word familiarity

…a new L2 form representation is connected not only to other, previously established, L2 form representations, but also to L1 forms. The OM thus differentiates between two subnetworks within the form network: an IntraNetwork and an InterNetwork. The IntraNetwork refers to the connections between a given L2 form and other L2 forms, as discussed above. The InterNetwork refers to cross-language connections, i.e., the connections between a given L2 form and L1 forms.”

An interesting and insightful model! I look forward to seeing further studies drawing upon it.

#language #literacy #models #learning #phonology #secondlanguageacquisition #multilingual