Measuring L2 Lexical Growth Using Hypernymic Relationships


  • The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education, through Grant IES R3056020018-02 to the University of Memphis. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the US Department of Education. The authors would also like to thank Dr. Philip McCarthy of the University of Memphis for his statistical and methodological assistance. Additionally, the authors are indebted to the three anonymous reviewers who provided critical assessments of the early and late versions of this article.

concerning this article should be addressed to Scott A. Crossley, Department of English, Mississippi State University, P.O. Box E, Starkville, MS 39759. Internet:


This study investigated second language (L2) lexical development in the spontaneous speech of six adult, L2 English learners in a 1-year longitudinal study. One important aspect of lexical development is lexical organization and depth of knowledge. Hypernymic relations, the hierarchical relationships among related words that vary in relation to their semantic specificity (e.g., Golden Retriever vs. dog vs. animal), are an important indicator of both lexical organization and depth of knowledge. Thus, this study used hypernymy values from the WordNet database and a lexical diversity measure to analyze lexical development. Statistical analyses in this study indicated that both hypernymic relations and lexical diversity in L2 learners increase over time. Additionally, lexical diversity and hypernymic values correlated significantly, suggesting that as learners' lexicons grow, learners have access to a wider range of hypernymy levels. These findings are discussed in relation to developing abstractness in language, extending hypernymic knowledge, and the growth of lexical networks.