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Volume 8 Number 1, Spring 2011, Pages 1-162   

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Is Literal Meaning Processed Before Figurative Meaning in L2 Idiom Processing?

    Soo-Ok Kweon

This study investigates the processing of literal and figurative meanings of L2 idioms by Korean learners of English. Based on Cieslicka's (2006) literal-salience resonant model, which proposes that literal meanings of idioms are accessed before figurative meanings in L2 idiom processing, the present study examines the model using a different experimental task (cross-modal lexical priming vs. self-paced sentence processing in context) and learners with different L1 background (Polish L1 vs. Korean L1). Ten English idioms were embedded in sentences (e.g., He kicked the bucket) and presented in conversation-based contexts biased toward either literal or figurative meaning (He kicked the bucket = He died). A novel non-idiom sentence (He filled the bucket) was also presented for each idiom in an appropriate context. Sixty seven Korean learners of English read the contexts line by line and their reading times were measured for each line. Literal sentences were read faster than figurative sentences. This suggests that, in L2 idiom processing, the literal meaning of an idiom was processed before its figurative meaning and that figurative meaning was more difficult to compute than both literal and novel non-idiom meanings even in the presence of strong contextual cues. In general, the results of the present study are in accordance with the literal-salience resonant model when different methods and learners with different L1 background were employed.

Keywords: idioms, L2 idiom processing, literal-salience resonant model