Multiple Meanings in the EFL Lexicon



The extent of words with multiple meanings in English has important implications for the vocabulary learning load of EFL learners. The greater proportion of such words among the target vocabulary implies an increased learning load. The present study investigates the extent of multiple word meanings among the most frequent 9,000 words of the English language, which we refer here as the EFL lexicon. These include two subsets of vocabulary ‘the high frequency vocabulary’ covering the most frequent 3,000 words and ‘the mid-frequency vocabulary’, which covers the subsequent 6,000 words in the 4,001 -9,000 frequency range. The meanings of 225 words randomly sampled from nine word frequency lists based on the British National Corpus were checked using the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries website. The results indicated that 64% of the words in the entire sample had multiple meanings. The percentage was much higher among the high frequency vocabulary (95%) but dropped considerably (48%) in the mid-frequency vocabulary. The words had 2.49 meanings on average amounting to a learning load of over 22,000 meanings for the 9,000 words. The high frequency vocabulary had more meanings, 4 meanings per word, suggesting an even heavier load for lower proficiency learners for whom this vocabulary is a common first target. The extent of multiple meanings was greater in adjectives: there was a greater percentage of adjectives with multiple meanings (85%) and the number of meanings per word was also higher (2.93 meanings) warranting special pedagogic attention.

Author Biography

Meral Ozturk, Uludag University

Meral Ozturk has a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics (University of Reading, U.K.) and is an Assistant Professor in the English Language Teaching Department of Education Faculty at Uludag University, Turkey. Her research interests include EFL Vocabulary Development, Vocabulary Testing and Lexical Syllabuses.


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