Making sense of phrasal verbs
A cognitive linguistic account of L2 learning
Phrasal verbs (PVs) have recently been the object of interest by linguists given their status as phraseological units whose meaning is non-compositional and opaque. They constitute a perfect case for theories of language processing and language acquisition to be tested. Cognitive linguists have participated in this debate and shown a certain interest for PVs, although their research on this topic stems in most of the cases from their central interest on prepositions and the language of spatiality. In this paper, I aim to make a comprehensive and critical summary of the cognitive linguistics (CL) literature on PVs with particular attention to its connection with usage-based approaches, especially in Second Language Acquisition (SLA), and to the concept of (meaning) motivation, which has proven to be useful in teaching. I will also present a CL analysis of the out-PVs (i.e., those containing the particle out) used by 3 groups of non-native speakers of English whose L1 respectively belongs to a Germanic satellite-framed (S-) language (Swedish and Dutch), a non-Germanic S-language (Russian and Bulgarian) and a verb-framed (V-) language (Spanish and Italian). The results obtained from this analysis show: (1) that both Germanic and Non-Germanic S-language learners use a greater number of out-PVs than V-language learners, not only when these verbs have a motional meaning but also when they express other meanings; and (2) that S-language learners also use a greater elaboration of path (Slobin 1996) when non-motional out-PV meanings are involved. These findings suggest that ‘the thinking for speaking hypothesis’ (Slobin 1996, 1997; Cadierno 2004), which has been shown to work for the domain of manner and path of motion, may in part be extended to the acquisition of PVs by L2 learners.