Theses Doctoral

Prepositions and Metaphorical Thinking in English as a Second Language by Intermediate and Advanced Learners with Spanish as their First Language

Saez, Natalia

Learning to use prepositions in English as a second language (L2) has been widely acknowledged to pose significant difficulties to learners, especially within metaphorical contexts. Difficulties relate to the complex distributional patterns of prepositions in discourse, namely, the variety of collocations requiring their use, as well as cross-linguistic differences both at the structural and conceptual levels. Studies in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) has thus far described learner usage of metaphorical prepositions as “errors”, without placing much detailed attention upon the lexical, conceptual and contextual nuances that may impinge on their uses.

Furthermore, scarce attention to the value of learners’ semantic and conceptual patterns in preposition phrasal collocations has led to ineffective memorization-driven instruction. While it is acknowledged that prepositions are difficult for L2 learners, more or less difficulty in learning metaphorical collocations of prepositions within specific prepositional phrases has scarcely been researched, for which this study attempted to provide an initial understanding. This dissertation included a mixed methods and cross-sectional design, where instances of preposition use within two types of metaphorical constructions were explored by means of a semi-structured interview. Extents to which participants may have engaged in spatial thinking while using prepositions metaphorically were also explored through the design of a spatial priming task.

The two types of metaphorical constructions focused upon in the study were prepositional phrases complementing the copula (PP-copula constructions) and prepositional phrases complementing prepositional verbs (PP-prepV constructions). Participants included learners of English with L1 Spanish ranging from low intermediate to advanced proficiencies, as well as English native speakers as a comparison group. From a syntax and semantics perspective, both PP-copula and PP-prepV constructions were be deemed to pose difficulties to learners, but to different extents and in relation to several phenomena such as knowledge of conventionality, potential metaphorical conceptualizations, and L1 influence. The study explored patterns and changes in metaphorical preposition use across groups within the two construction types of interest, illuminating trends in conventionality, as well as persistence and changes in metaphorical conceptualizations across proficiencies (“trajectories”).

Interrelationships between L1 influence and the incorporation of L2 English patterns were identified in learners’ interlanguage collocations, and were compared across proficiencies. Additionally, potential relationships were explored between participants’ metaphorical preposition uses, and aspects of language experience collected by means of a language background questionnaire. Results suggest that metaphorical PP-prepV constructions tend to contribute more to learners’ repertoires of lexical collocations as proficiency increased compared to metaphorical PP-copula constructions. Conventionality in preposition use was observed to increase with proficiency, especially within metaphorical PP-prepV constructions. Linguistic and conceptual “trajectories” revealed that learners worked with networks of conventional and unconventional preposition collocations. Some unconventional collocations persisted across proficiencies in reference to specific abstract notions, while others shifted toward NS lexical and conceptual conventionality when referring to other abstract notions.

The study also shed light on participants’ engagement in spatial thinking while processing prepositions in metaphorical contexts. The discussion highlights lexical and conceptual networks relative to particular abstract notions, as well as L1 and L2 influence in learners’ interlanguage collocations. This study could be relevant to language teachers in offering insight into patterns and changes in L2 learners’ metaphorical preposition use within specific domains of discourse. Findings could provide possible conceptual and lexical starting points among intermediate and advanced proficiencies in relation to specific prepositional phrase constructions, from which teachers could provide scaffolding to promote expansion of learners’ L2 lexical repertoires.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Arts and Humanities
Thesis Advisors
Gordon, Peter
Williams, Howard A.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
November 9, 2022