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Second Language Figurative Proficiency: A Comparative Study of Malay and English

Charteris-Black, Jonathan



This paper explores the potential of cognitive linguistic notions such as conceptual metaphor and conceptual metonym for comparing the figurative phraseologies of English and Malay and anticipating second language learner difficulty. A comparative analysis is undertaken that identifies six types of relationship between figurative expressions in the two languages. It is suggested that identification of linguistic and conceptual similarities and differences in figurative expressions enable us to anticipate the types of problems that may be encountered by Malay-speaking learners of English in the acquisition of English figurative language. A comparative analysis is used to develop a set of production and comprehension tasks that aim to measure figurative proficiency. This is tested with a group of 36 Malay-speaking tertiary learners of English. It is found that figurative expressions with an equivalent conceptual basis and linguistic form are the easiest. The most difficult are those with (1) a different conceptual basis and an equivalent linguistic form and (2) culture-specific expressions that have a different conceptual basis and a different linguistic form. There is some evidence that learners may resort to the L1 conceptual basis when processing unfamiliar L2 figurative language. There is also evidence of intralingual confusion between higher and lower frequency L2 figurative expressions. It is more advantageous to draw learners' attention to the conceptual bases of L2 figurative expressions in circumstances where they differ from those of the LI than when the conceptual bases are similar (especially where learners' LI is unrelated to their L2).


Charteris-Black, J. (2002). Second Language Figurative Proficiency: A Comparative Study of Malay and English. Applied Linguistics, 23(1), 104-133+156.

Journal Article Type Review
Publication Date Mar 1, 2002
Journal Applied Linguistics
Print ISSN 0142-6001
Publisher Oxford University Press (OUP)
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Volume 23
Issue 1
Pages 104-133+156
Keywords second language, figurative proficiency, Malay, English
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Additional Information : The article explores the potential of the cognitive linguistic notions (e.g. conceptual metaphor and conceptual metonym) for comparing and anticipating learner difficulty with English and Malay figurative expressions. A model is proposed from both formal linguistic and conceptual differences and similarities between figurative expressions in these two languages; it is based on empirical data collected from Malay learners of English figurative expressions. The article is cited by others concerned with the second language learning of metaphors and idioms.