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Not just ‘small potatoes’: Knowledge of the idiomatic meanings of collocations

Macis, M and Schmitt, N (2017) Not just ‘small potatoes’: Knowledge of the idiomatic meanings of collocations. Language Teaching Research, 21 (3). pp. 321-340. ISSN 1362-1688


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© 2016, © The Author(s) 2016. This study investigated learner knowledge of the figurative meanings of 30 collocations that can be both literal and figurative. One hundred and seven Chilean Spanish-speaking university students of English were asked to complete a meaning-recall collocation test in which the target items were embedded in non-defining sentences. Results showed limited collocation knowledge, with a mean score of 33% correct. The study also examined the effects of frequency, semantic transparency, year at university, and everyday engagement with the second language (L2) outside the classroom on this collocation knowledge. Mixed-effects modelling indicated that there was no relationship between frequency and semantic transparency and the knowledge of the figurative meanings. However, a positive relationship was found between this knowledge and year at university, time spent in an English-speaking country, and time spent reading.

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