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Reviewed by:
  • Connected Words: Word Associations and Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition
  • Imma Miralpeix
Meara, Paul . (2009). Connected Words: Word Associations and Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Pp. xvii, 174, $49.95 (paper).

Connected Words: Word Associations and Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition consists of a collection of papers that are the result of Paul Meara's work on word associations in second language vocabulary acquisition (SLVA). The studies presented originally appeared in other publications and some were carried out in collaboration with [End Page 763] former PhD students who are now well-known researchers in the field, such as Clarissa Wilks, Brent Wolter, and Tess Fitzpatrick.

The book opens with a general introduction contextualizing the research that will be presented in the wider fields of applied linguistics and second language acquisition, while giving a first taste of the contents and specifying the book's main objectives. Similarly, the five sections into which the book is divided - each with one to three chapters - start with a brief explanation that links the previous part with the following and justifies what will be found in the next chapters, highlighting many significant aspects in the development of the investigation. In this way, the author weaves a compelling story throughout the chapters, making the book a coherent whole and offering an accurate account of a long-term research program.

Both the arrangement and the contents of the book remind me of two particular stages that Kuhn (1962) described as being present whenever scientific change is involved. According to Kuhn, change in science comprises different steps, which start by 'stretching a paradigm' to its limits, considering the appropriateness of a particular framework, detecting 'anomalies,' and looking at their causes in depth. Likewise, the two chapters in section 1 demonstrate the empirical problems and the lack of a rationale behind research on word associations. Consequently, Meara wonders about the suitability of the existing approach to account for the way vocabularies grow and develop.

The next stage involves the suggestion of 'plausible alternatives' that could replace the old paradigm (Kuhn, 1962). Accordingly, in section 2, word associations are explored as indicators of other constructs: they are shown to be a valid way to measure the size of productive vocabularies, which is one facet of a three-dimensional model of vocabulary acquisition that the author tries to establish, the other two being organization and accessibility. Section 3 goes a step further and uses a mathematical method (graph theory) to analyze network structures and to survey vocabulary as a network instead of a collection of words. Knowing how interconnected words are in the network would provide a way to quantify another dimension: lexical organization. This section also introduces work on simulations thatmodel word-association behaviour, leading to a new vision of lexical organization and development. The proposals presented imply a re-evaluation of theoretical issues such as the receptive/ productive continuum, seen now as a dichotomy, or the issue of vocabulary depth, which is considered a property of the whole lexicon and not just of individual words. They further involve a redesign of the word-association technique as a task of identifying links between sets of words instead of producing associates for individual items. [End Page 764]

A limitation of the book is that the model put forward in this section is of an exploratory nature. Results are not conclusive because the model is born out of computer simulations and needs validation with real data. However, if valid, the framework could lay the foundations for extensive and informative research in the field.

I will finish this review by emphasizing the major role that time plays in this type of research, as the book is the result of an extended period of inquiry into the same area. It conveniently summarizes 30 years of research: the first chapter saw the light in 1978, and the last study was completed in 2005. This is not common in SLVA research, where we find a large number of one-off studies. Furthermore, section 4 includes an annotated bibliography of over 100 references on word associations in different second languages, along with less frequently cited studies and the author's suggestions on what constitutes the...


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