Funky images

In my last post one of the comments (by nmwhiteport) was skeptical about the notion of core meaning of words as I used it to describe the verbs make and do in Collocations need not be arbitrary. One issue here is how to define core (of which the definitions I used may be debatable) and the other is even if people agree on definitions of core meaning is it more effective than learning words by memorisation?

Taking the first issue, Verspoor & Lowie (2003) give one definition of core (taken from a dictionary) as :

“The core meaning is the one that represents the most literal sense that the word has in modern usage. This is not necessarily the same as the oldest meaning, because word meanings change over time. Nor is it necessarily the most frequent meaning, because figurative senses are sometimes the most frequent. It is the meaning accepted by native speakers as the one that is most established as literal and central.”

Verspoor & Lowie, 2003: 555

Note that Tyler & Evans (2003) give a more rigorous approach in identifying what they refer to as primary sense.

Using the Verspoor & Lowie (2003) definition one can say the literal meaning of make is to create something new from nothing and that of do is to execute an activity. A diagram could be presented to illustrate this over time:

(Tsai, 2014: 94)
(Tsai, 2014: 94)

Perhaps nmwhiteport’s puzzle loving student would be less likely to produce ‘make a crossword’ having seen the above diagrams and noted how make involves “a nothing to a something” compared to do which has a “something to a samething”?

One clue to the second issue of the efficacy of core meaning is seen in Verspoor and Lowie (2003) who found that students who were given a core meaning were better able to interpret extended meanings better than students who were given translated meanings of a more peripheral sense. This difference held when students were tested 2 weeks later.

Similarly when lexical items overlap as described in the last post with the example of high and tall, Beréndi, Csábi & Kövesces (2008), provided central senses of hold and keep to one group of students (key idea of hand in hold and control in keep) and asked another group of students to translate various hold and keep sentences from English into Hungarian. The first group of students who got the core meanings did better than the second group in both immediate and delayed post-tests.

A core meaning approach has been used with prepositions (Tyler & Evans, 2004), phrasal verbs (Condon & Kelly, 2002, as cited in Tyler, 2012) and article use (Thu, H. N., & Huong, N. T., 2005).

One interesting thing to note is that the addition of images in cognitive linguistics studies seem to be very helpful in learning performance. Hence I have started a database of images that could be useful in language teaching, mainly for English but other languages can be added. So please do let me know or do share link with people who may be interested.


Beréndi, M., Csábi, S., & Kövecses, Z. (2008). Using conceptual metaphors and metonymies in vocabulary teaching. In F. Boers & S. Lindstromberg (Eds.), Cognitive linguistic approaches to teaching vocabulary and phraseology (pp. 65–100). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Thu, H. N., & Huong, N. T. (2005). Vietnamese learners mastering English articles (Published doctoral dissertation).

Tsai, M. H. (2014). Usage-based cognitive semantics in L2 collocation: A microgenetic analysis of EFL students’ collocational knowledge (Unpublished doctoral dissertation).

Tyler, A. (2012). Cognitive linguistics and second language learning: Theoretical basics and experimental evidence. Routledge.

Tyler, A., & Evans, V. (2003). The semantics of English prepositions: Spatial scenes, embodied meaning and cognition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Verspoor, M. H., & Lowie, W. (2003). Making sense of polysemous words. Language Learning, 53, 547–586.


11 thoughts on “Funky images

  1. Hello again!

    I’d just like to respond quickly with a couple of questions related to your points.

    1) Is it fair to say that you attribute meaning to the word and not to the speaker using the word in a given context?

    Put another way, do you believe that meaning is a property of a lexical item in much the same way as a book is a property of a lending library?

    In other words, that speakers ‘borrow’ the meaning of words in order to make meaning during, say, a conversation with a friend?

    Presumably not.

    But then if you don’t see meaning as a property of a lexical item, where *is* meaning stored?

    And if meaning is stored as a series of core (or CORE) concepts, how do they relate to the words that are used to express those core concepts?

    Do you think that core concepts are universal and hold true for all languages so that the concept MAKE regardless of whether that concept is expressed in English (“make”), Russian (“делать”), Spanish (“hacer”),etc.?

    Or do you think that each language has its own set of core concepts, such as HACER -“hacer”, ДЕЛАТЬ -“делать”, and MAKE -“make”?

    2) Regarding the two schematic diagrams from Tsai, I still fail to see how these images could help a student predict that “make” matches “phone call” and not “do”.

    Similarly, “make homework” and, yes, “make a crossword puzzle”, both seem more plausible than “do homework” and “do a crossword”.

    I think my issue is that diagrams such as those (and not just those) only seem to make sense once you already know the language point you are being taught – which apart from an aide-memoire for revision before a test, say, would seem to put a question mark over its value.

    1. hi nmwhiteport looks like i am doing a bad job of relating the cog ling studies i have been reading!
      re where do meanings come from – cog ling says meanings derive from our experiences of the world;
      re drawings – studies often got students to draw themselves various collocations and in the case of Tsai – showed development in her Chinese speaking students of their use of collocations, one of the collocations was “make a phone call”, the study is linked in the database if you want to investigate

      1. sorry to add recent study by Tsui shows both form focused instruction such as underling the collocations and filling in the blanks was as good as Concept based instruction – “(1) learn the verb’s meaning, (2) draw the collocation events, and (3) share their drawings with each other”, with the concept based instruction giving better immediate accuracy scores and better long-term scores –

      2. Hi Mura,

        Thanks for your quick reply.

        “looks like i am doing a bad job of relating the cog ling studies i have been reading!”

        Not at all – my comments are not about your understanding of cognitive linguistics. Rather they are questions about cognitive linguistics (at least as it relates to language teaching).

        “cog ling says meanings derive from our experiences of the world”

        But there is room for skepticism in the idea of embodied cognition such that, e.g. UP means ‘happy’ while DOWN means ‘sad’ as in Lakoff and Johson’s cognitive metaphor concept.

        For example, there’s a tendency to give lists of (usually invented) examples to support their case, but it doesn’t seem altogether convincing once counter-examples are brought in such as these for UP:

        “Oh, I give up!”
        “Damn! He completely f***ed that one up!”
        “Everything’s just so up in the air right now, I don’t know what to do.”
        “Well, I screwed that one up, didn’t I?”

        “studies often got students to draw themselves various collocations”

        That’s very, very different from a teacher providing an explanatory diagram on a student’s behalf though.

        In fact, if the aim in that study was to have students draw diagrams of collocations *they had already been introduced to* then that would support the point I was trying to make about its value as an “an aide-memoire”.

        But again, it can only aid memory if there’s something to remember, i.e. the student already knows the collocation.

        It would still be unlikely to help them accurately predict which words are going to be collocates – which is what I’d understood was the goal you were pursuing in rejecting e.g. Selivan’s idea that “That’s just the way it is” and setting out for a more satisfactory pedagogic explanation for your students question, “Why is it ‘in many respects’ and not ‘in many aspects’?”

        But again, thanks for responding as it’s interesting to think about and discuss.

      3. hi again
        quick response re diagrams – students were able to explain +new+ collocational patterns not seen in pre-test and instruction phase, and also important to note the verbalisation stage where students need to explain their drawings and their conceptualizations of collocations
        thanks for your comments!

  2. hi nmwhiteport

    been reading a paper that may throw light on our discussions here, it is about idioms and how often discussions on it involve conflating 3 things:


    so a learner may first have some initial idea of meaning of an idiom (convention) then they could see which parts of the idiom correspond to the meaning (composition); further an idiom can be transparent (or motivated) yet not have any identifiable parts (composition) that correspond to the (conventional) meaning of the idiom.

    so the above points to focusing pedagogy on comprehending collocations after the fact rather than producing collocations before the fact? and that seems to follow usual logic of language learning where comprehension tends to precede production?

    what do you think? the paper is – Nunberg, G., Sag, I. A., & Wasow, T. (1994). Idioms. Language, 70(3), 491–538. doi:10.1353/lan.1994.0007

  3. Thanks for the post and the images Mura. Looking at Nick’s (?) counterexamples, I think the ‘make’ diagram works for ‘make a phonecall’ (there was no phonecall, and now there is), but ‘do homework’ seems to match that one too. Still, I think pictures like this that help in 90% of cases are still useful to use, even if there are occasional chunks which don’t fit.
    I really like the idea of the image bank – I think every teacher has a selection of this kind of image which they regularly use. Unfortunately the images aren’t displaying on my computer at the moment (Mac using Chrome) – don’t know if it’s just me or other people too?

    1. hi Sandy
      thanks for info on images not displaying, just tried with Chrome on Mac , I can see images, strange;
      yes re images i should have said in main post that use of images (in the studies referenced) was also in the framework of sociocultural theory, so students need to engage with images by drawing such images and reflecting on them;
      so indeed a student may well the “make” diagram to illustrate “do homework” and that may be okay or not depending on the purposes we may have – recall the previous discussion on do vs make (Collocations need not be arbitrary);
      thanks for commenting!

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