Semantic field theory and the teaching of English vocabulary with special reference to Iraqi secondary schools
The study of semantic fields and their relationships within lexical structure has become an essential part of semantic analysis. Vaguely formulated though it has been, semantic field theory has proved its worth as a general guide for research in descriptive semantics over the last fifty years-, and has undoubtedly increased our understanding of the way the lexemes of language are interrelated in sense. The aim of the present study is two-fold. First, it is an attempt to investigate the theory of semantic fields and offer an account of the theory that may be applied to lexical problems in foreign language teaching. The second aim of the study is 'applied' in nature. It is concerned with the potential applications of semantic field theory to the teaching and learning of lexis in EFL situations. Semantic field theory is a theory of lexical semantics. The evaluation of the adequacy of a linguistic theory is a matter internal to linguistics-, whether a theory succeeds according to some objective criteria in accounting for what it purports to account for. Semantic field theory has achieved a great deal of adequacy in accounting for the semantic relations holding between the meanings of lexemes in a natural language. However, in applied linguistics, we are not interested only in the adequacy or validity of linguistic theories but also in their utility for solving the practical problems faced by the language learner. Just as a linguistic theory must be validated empirically according to criteria internal to linguistics, so a linguistic theory must also be proved useful in application. The test of a theory's utility is, therefore, empirical. In order to assess the utility of semantic field theory in the teaching of English vocabulary, an experiment was formulated and conducted in an EFL situation. Although the experiment was limited and applied to a specific language skill (reading comprehension) and to a specific situation (a secondary school in Iraq), it is hoped that the findings of the experiment will be potentially relevant to other language skills and to EFL-teachers working in a wide variety of situations, The thesis is divided into eleven chapters. Chapter One is intended to shed light on the nature of vocabulary and the role of lexis in communication and to identify the EFL learners' problem in acquiring lexis in semantic fields. Chapter Two is an attempt to define and clarify some linguistic terms as used in our discussion and analysis of semantic fields. Chapter Three looks into the historical background of semantic field theory and critically examines some recent studies that have contributed to the development of the theory. Chapter Four is a somewhat detailed investigation of the structure of semantic fields and the characteristics of these fields as envisaged in our research. It also deals with some approaches to the analysis of lexical meaning and suggests a simplified componential-collocational approach for the teaching of lexis. Chapter. c Three and Four may be regarded as making up the 'theoretical part' of the research. The 'applied part' is covered in Chapters 5- 10. Chapter Five is a contrastive lexical analysis of some semantic fields in English and Arabic - Arabic being the language of the EFL learners with whom our research is mainly concerned. Chapters Six and Seven deal with some pedagogical issues relevant to the study and to the experiment. The experiment (its design, hypotheses, phases, results, statistical analyses of the results, discussion of the findings, etc. ) are given in Chapters Ekht, Nine and Ten. Some concluding remarks concerning the place of the study in the wider context of applied linguistics research and its implications for the teaching of vocabulary in Iraq and other EFL situations are dealt with in Chapter Eleven.