VLI 7(1): Brown (2018)

Examining the Word Family through Word Lists
Dale Brown
Kanazawa University
doi: https://doi.org/10.7820/vli.v07.1.brown
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Abstract
The choice of lexical unit has important consequences for L2 vocabulary
research, testing and instruction. In recent years, the most widely
used lexical unit has been the word family. This study examines the
characteristics of word lists based on the word family and explores the
levels of text coverage such lists may provide should the assumption
that learners can deal with word families be incorrect. This is pursued
through the detailed examination of a set of word-family-based word
lists. The study finds that such word lists pose a number of challenges,
including the number of word forms with multiple affixes, the number
of word forms with more challenging affixes, and the number of word
families in which the base word is not the most frequently occurring
member. Moreover, the first thousand word families in particular are
shown to be challenging. The study then demonstrates that if learners
are unable to deal with the complexity of word families, even to a relatively
small degree, word-family-based lists may provide far lower text
coverage levels than may be assumed. It concludes that in work on second
language vocabulary, careful consideration is needed of the appropriacy
of the word family as the lexical unit and highlights the range of
work based on the word family that may need reevaluating.

Keywords
lexical unit, word families, word lists, text coverage

Citation
Brown, D. (2018). Examining the word family through word lists. Vocabulary Learning and Instruction, 7 (1), 51–65. doi: 10.7820/vli.v07.1.brown