上海交大“985 工程”外语学院二语习得研究平台 > Ph.D Programs > AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE ROLES OF COGNITIVE ABILITY AND LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY IN CHINESE EFL LEARNERS’ METAPHOR COMPREHENSION AND PRODUCTION

AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE ROLES OF COGNITIVE ABILITY AND LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY IN CHINESE EFL LEARNERS’ METAPHOR COMPREHENSION AND PRODUCTION

2008-11-18 20:35 来源: 作者: 网友评论 0 条 浏览次数 4852

AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE ROLES OF COGNITIVE ABILITY AND LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY IN CHINESE EFL LEARNERS’ METAPHOR COMPREHENSION AND PRODUCTION

 

 作者:魏耀章

导师:王同顺教授

 

Abstract

 The study of metaphor has undergone quite a long history of over 2400 years, during which a number of competing, if not conflicting, theories about it have been advanced. Since the field of language teaching is always keen on developing the pedagogical implications of theoretical linguistics (White 2003: 147), these theories undoubtedly exercise a considerable influence on metaphor studies from the perspective of applied linguistics. Accordingly, this dissertation argues that the current applied linguistic research of metaphor should first of all make an in-depth analysis of the theories of metaphor, and then investigate what the crucial factors are and how these factors affect language learners’ metaphoric competence.

 

The present research begins with an in-depth and critical analysis of Aristotle’s classical and Lakoff & Johnson’ contemporary metaphor theory --- the two most influential ones (Steen 2000: 261), with the intent to shed some light on the real nature of metaphor, thus providing a theoretical framework for applied linguistic studies of metaphor. The present research is supportive of Mahon (2001) and Kittay (1989) that Aristotle’s metaphor also shows a cognitive concern and that the two theories differ only in their respective emphasis on different functions of metaphor due to the different socio-historic and academic environments in which Aristotle and Lakoff & Johnson operate. Specifically, Aristotle emphasizes metaphor’s linguistic or rhetorical function while Lakoff & Johnson lay stress on metaphor’s function as a human cognitive mechanism. In addition, according to Richards (1965), unlike Aristotle’s belief that to have a command of metaphor is a mark of genius, everyone is believed to be capable of comprehending and producing metaphor and the differences between them are in degree only. With these understandings in mind, the present research then hypothesizes that, since metaphor is fundamentally cognitive, native and foreign language learners may vary in their ability to comprehend and produce metaphors. Generally speaking, native speakers are no longer dogged by language problems, so their ability to comprehend and produce metaphors may be significantly affected by their cognitive ability. However, for foreign language learners, because of a lower level of linguistic competence in the target language, their language proficiency, may be another factor, just like their cognitive ability, that affects their metaphor comprehension and production performances. Furthermore, it is hypothesized that cognition and language proficiency might play different roles in metaphor comprehension and production because, after all, comprehension and production are two different cognitive processes. Moreover, it is hypothesized that learners might differ to some extent in metaphor comprehension and production when they are cognitively and linguistically different.

 

To further investigate how cognitive ability and language proficiency affect the Chinese EFL learners’ metaphor comprehension and production, the present research conducts an experiment from the perspective of applied linguistics. Eighty-two English major students from a foreign languages department in a technology institute in Shanghai, China participated in a series of tests. Reported in the following are some major findings obtained from the tests.

 

1) The Chinese EFL learners’ cognitive ability and language proficiency were found to be closely correlated with and significantly predict the performances of their metaphor comprehension. Meanwhile the two factors were found to be highly significantly correlated with the learners’ performance of metaphor production. However, it was found that the learners’ cognitive ability could account for a significant proportion of the variance of their metaphor production whereas language proficiency could not. This means that for foreign language learners, metaphor comprehension is the confluence of both cognitive and linguistic ability. On the other hand, metaphor production, though mainly a cognitive issue, is nevertheless highly correlated with language proficiency.

 

2) When the Chinese speaking learners were divided into higher- and lower-level groups based on their cognitive level, cognition was found not to be a significant predictor of the variance of the metaphor comprehension among the lower-level groups, but it was found to have a significant predictive power for the higher-level groups’ metaphor comprehension performance. Meanwhile, the research found that language proficiency could explain a significant proportion of the variance of the metaphor comprehension performance of the lower-level group, but not of that of the higher-level group. In addition, the research found that cognition could consistently account for a significant proportion of the variance of the metaphor production of both groups of students. On the other hand, language proficiency was not found to significantly predict the two groups’ metaphor production performance. Therefore, the research stated that cognition and language proficiency seemed to play different roles in the comprehension of metaphor and that metaphor production was fundamentally cognition-based irrespective of the learners’ cognitive ability.

 

Similar findings were made of the metaphor comprehension and production performance when the learners were divided into the higher- and lower-level groups based on their language proficiency. The difference lies only in the fact that cognition was not found to be a significant predictor of their comprehension of metaphor for the linguistically competent learners while it was a significant one for the linguistically challenged. This finding thus suggests that when the learners were cognitively poor, they were more likely to seek help from their linguistic knowledge in order to understand metaphorical sentences.

 

3) Language proficiency was consistently found to have a significantly strong predictive power for the comprehension of each type of metaphorical sentence while cognition could account for a significant proportion of the variance of the comprehension performances of S2 (same conceptual metaphor but different linguistic expression in the source and target languages), S3 (different conceptual metaphors used in the two languages) and S4 (words and expressions with similar literal meanings but different metaphorical meanings in the two languages) except S1 (same conceptual metaphor and equivalent linguistic expression in the two languages). In addition, cognition was consistently found to explain a significant proportion of the variance of the learners’ performance with respect to the density, aptness and novelty of the metaphor generated whereas language proficiency was invariably not.

 

Based on these findings, the research discusses some theoretical, methodological and pedagogical implications the present study has for English teaching and learning in the Chinese context. In addition, it offers its limitations and suggestions for future research.

 

 

 

Keywords: cognitive ability; language proficiency; metaphor comprehension; metaphor production

 

 

     Aristotle伊始,隐喻研究跨越了两千多年的历史长河,期间理论流派竞现,各有其说,仁智互见。由于外语教学研究界总是热衷于从理论语言学研究中获取给养(White 2003: 147),因此这些隐喻理论无疑对外语教学研究的走向起着举足轻重的影响。有鉴于此,本文认为,当前对于外语教学研究和教学而言,要提高外语学习者隐喻能力,首当其冲的问题是要对各种隐喻理论进行深入的分析,进而探究影响外语学习者隐喻能力发展的各种关键因素。

     据此,本文首先从隐喻研究以来最具影响的以Aristotle为代表的古典隐喻理论和以Lakoff & Johnson为代表的当代隐喻理论(Steen 2000: 261)入手,借助于其他相关研究成果,探究隐喻的本质属性。在此基础上,文章指出,两种理论的根本分歧不在于他们所讨论的隐喻本质有所不同,而是由于他们各自受当时所处的社会历史和学术环境的影响和制约,从不同的角度阐释了对隐喻的理解。 换句话说,Aristotle的隐喻理论正如Kittay (1989)Mahon (2001)所说还是以认知为基础的,只是他更注重研究隐喻的修辞功能,而Lakoff & Johnson更关注隐喻作为人类认识世界之工具的认知功能。因此,隐喻能力从本质上来说是认知的问题。另外,依据Richards (1965)的观点,隐喻能力并非像Aristotle所言是天才的标志;相反,人类普遍具有这种能力,所不同的只是“度”的问题,也就是说只是隐喻能力强与弱的问题。其次,本文认为,由于隐喻从本质上说具有认知的特点,一般来讲,由于本族语学习者的语言水平已经相对完善,因而对他们来说,语言交际过程中隐喻的理解和产出可能更多取决于认知水平。然而,对外语学习者而言,因其语言水平相对薄弱,其隐喻理解和生成能力除了受认知能力的影响外,语言水平也可能是一个不可忽略的制约因素。当然,本文也并不否认其他诸如学习风格、动机、文化背景等因素对隐喻理解和生成能力的影响。文章进而指出,由于外语者的认知能力和语言水平不同,其隐喻理解和生成能力也就不同。另外,一般而言,理解和生成是两个不同的认知过程,因此,认知能力和语言水平对二者的影响也可能呈现不同的情况。为了进一步探究以上问题,本研究从应用语言学的角度,以82名中国大学英语专业学生为被试对象进行了一项实证研究,得出以下主要结论。

1)中国英语学习者的隐喻理解能力既是一个认知能力的问题,又是一个语言水平的问题。研究发现,学习者的认知能力和语言水平和其隐喻理解能力高度相关;认知能力可以解释43.6%隐喻理解能力的变异,语言水平可以预测43.9%的相关变异。换句话说,认知能力和语言水平都是决定隐喻理解的显著变量。就隐喻生成而言,比较来看,认知能力对隐喻生成能力变异的解释力为83.5%,而语言水平仅能解释其10.8%的变异,但是却和其有非常明显正相关关系。可以看出,认知能力对隐喻生成能力的预测力明显强于语言水平。这一结果说明,隐喻理解和生成是两个不同的认知过程,因此,学习者的认知能力和语言水平在隐喻理解和生成过程中扮演着不同的角色。由此推理,对外语学习者来讲,隐喻理解既是一个认知能力的问题,也是一个语言水平的问题。 而隐喻生成主要还是一个认知能力的问题,但是语言水平和其高度相关。

 2)认知能力和语言水平在不同认知能力和语言水平的学习者隐喻理解过程中表现出不同的作用。具体而言,当学习者处于低水平认知阶段时,其认知能力对隐喻理解的解释力不明显,只达到27.1%,而语言水平的解释力却非常明显,达到了48.3%。当学习者处于高水平认知阶段时,认知能力和语言水平对隐喻理解的作用正好和其处于低水平阶段时相反。换言之,在学习者认知能力较高时,其认知能力对隐喻理解能力的预测力非常明显,达到了44.4%,而这个时候语言水平的预测力并不明显,只有6%。这说明,学习者的认知能力越强,其认知能力对隐喻理解的贡献越大,随之,其语言水平的贡献越小。但是实验发现,当学习者无论是处于哪个(高、低)认知水平时,其认知能力对隐喻生成的解释力都非常明显,而语言水平的解释力都不明显。这说明,隐喻生成主要还是一个认知能力的问题。

当学习者处于低水平语言阶段时,其认知能力和语言水平对隐喻理解的解释能力都非常明显。实验发现,在这一阶段,认知能力可以解释54%隐喻理解能力的变异,语言水平能解释34.4%的相关变异。当学习者处于高水平语言阶段时,认知能力对隐喻理解能力的解释力很明显,达到了37.8%;而语言水平的解释力并不十分明显,只有28.9%。这表明,语言水平越高的学习者更多的是借助他们的认知能力来理解隐喻,而语言水平低的学习者同时依靠其认知能力和语言水平来达到他们理解隐喻的目的。实验发现,对语言水平不同的学生来讲,其隐喻生成能力的高低主要还是取决于他们认知能力的高低,语言水平的作用不明显。这表明,隐喻生成不同于理解,主要是认知能力的问题。

3)实验发现,在理解四种不同的隐喻句子时,学习者的认知能力除了对第一种句子理解的预测力不明显外(20.7%),对其他三种句子的预测力都比较或非常明显(分别为22.9%, 43%, 42.3%)。而语言水平对所有类型的隐喻句子理解的预测力都非常明显(依次为42.7%, 41.2%, 28.4%, 29.4%)。具体来讲,当目的语和母语的概念和语词都对等时,认知能力对其隐喻理解能力的解释力不明显,而在其他三种情况下,即,当两种语言在概念和语词方面呈现出各种不同的差异时,认知能力能显著地解释学习者隐喻理解能力的变异。对于隐喻生成而言,学习者的认知能力对构成生成能力的三个变量:隐喻的数量、恰当性、新颖性的预测能力都极其明显,依次达到75.5%, 84.3%, 76.8%,而语言水平的预测力都不明显。

文章最后讨论了本研究对于同类研究和外语教学和学习的启示意义;指出了其局限性以及今后同类研究的方向。

 

 

关键词:认知能力、语言水平、隐喻理解、隐喻生成

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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