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Elicited metaphoric competence in a second language: a construct associated with vocabulary knowledge and general proficiency?

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Publication details

JournalInternational Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching
DateAccepted/In press - 26 Apr 2021
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 28 May 2021
Number of pages41
Early online date28/05/21
Original languageEnglish


The extent to which the ability to use metaphor in a second language ¬- metaphoric competence (MC) - relates to well-attested language proficiency components has implications both for understanding second language (L2) competence and for pedagogy. Building on previous enquiries (Azuma 2005) and extending a vocabulary size and depth research agenda (Qian 2002; Schmitt 2014) to the realm of MC, the present study sought to disentangle the relationships between six elicited MC constructs, reliably established by O’Reilly and Marsden (2021), two standardised L2 proficiency measures, and established vocabulary size and depth measures. With 108 Mandarin learners of L2 English, partial correlation analyses showed unique relationships between specific MC and proficiency measures, evidence of what these learners could do with metaphor at various proficiency levels, and how sparse references to metaphor in proficiency descriptors (e.g., CEFR) might be more precisely interpreted. Multiple regression analyses showed that Read’s (1993, 1998) Word Associates Test, a vocabulary depth measure, was closely linked to all types of MC, particularly productive control (Henriksen 1999) and metaphor language play (O’Reilly and Marsden 2021). The findings point to the centrality of different (but related) types of associative thinking ability in metaphor use and language learning more generally (Carroll 1993; Littlemore 2001; 2002; 2008; Littlemore and Low 2006a). Future research implications and pedagogical reflections are provided.

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