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Volume 6 Number 3, Autumn 2009, Pages 1-401   

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Differential Difficulty in Processing L1-L2 Verb Splits: Dissociation with Corpus Frequency

    Soo-Ok Kweon

This study examines the Split phenomenon in EFL learning, in which a word in the L1 is manifest in two or more forms in the L2. This phenomenon is most difficult to learn in the L2 when the L1 and the L2 are syntactically and typologically different, as in the case of Korean (L1) and English (L2). Communication verbs in Korean and English are a good example of the Split phenomenon, because the Korean verb (Malhata) splits into four verbs (Tell, Say, Talk, and Speak) in English. Korean university students who had read four novels during an extensive reading course were tested to determine how correctly they used the four verbs and their subtypes in context. Results show that these verbs are not equally difficult for L2 learners to learn: Talk appears to be the easiest and the [say + to NP] subtype construction the most difficult. Rates at which Korean learners used these four verbs correctly were not associated with their frequencies in either the British National Corpus or a corpus based on the novels used in the study. This suggests that L2 learners' knowledge of verb semantics and argument structure information is not guided exclusively by input frequency or by contextual information in the process of learning an L2. Semantic transfer in the form-meaning mapping in L2 vocabulary learning is discussed.

Keywords: Split phenomenon, corpus frequency, communication verbs, semantic transfer