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Eliciting and measuring L2 metaphoric competence: three decades on from Low (1988)

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Publication details

JournalApplied Linguistics
DateSubmitted - 20 Oct 2018
DateAccepted/In press - 10 Dec 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print - 25 Jan 2020
DatePublished (current) - 1 Feb 2021
Issue number1
Number of pages35
Pages (from-to)24-59
Early online date25/01/20
Original languageEnglish


In 1988 and 2006, Applied Linguistics published Low’s and Littlemore and Low’s seminal theoretical accounts of second language (L2) metaphoric competence (MC). Meanwhile, attempts to elicit metaphor-related skills and competencies have been mixed. Instrumentation has varied in reliability, been limited in scope, and used arguably flawed reliability coefficients (McNeish, 2018). Factor analysis, used in first language (L1) MC and other areas of L2 research (e.g., Loewen et al. 2009) has not been used to explore variables. To address these issues, we developed a large battery of MC tests to elicit Low/Littlemore’s constructs, administering it to 112 L1 Mandarin speakers of L2 English and 31 L1 English speakers. Data cleaning revealed some operationalization challenges, but resulting overall reliability was high and demonstrated innovative use of ordinal omega as a powerful alternative to Cronbach’s alpha (Plonsky & Derrick, 2016). Exploratory factor analysis suggested four L2 MC variables: productive illocutionary MC, Metaphor language play, Topic/Vehicle acceptability, and Grammatical MC, broadly supporting Low/Littlemore’s proposals.

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