Word Meaning as a Palimpsest: A Defense of Sociocultural Theory

Seonmi Song*, David Kellogg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Vygotsky's work on the acquisition of foreign language words has been criticized for lacking a formal view of language as a system and for taking little interest in questions such as the route and rate of language acquisition. We argue that word meanings really do not constitute a formal system, either in the way they develop, or in the way they are deployed. They may, of course, be taught that way, but we present evidence from a partial replication of Slimani (1992) that they are not, in fact, acquired that way. Instead, foreign language word meanings appear to be palimpsests of different layers of meaning: iconic, indexical, and, ultimately, symbolic and signifying. It seems likely that because of the role of volition in uptake, no fixed route or rate in vocabulary acquisition will ever be found. Sociocultural theory, however, offers a historical understanding of the roots and ranges of foreign language word meanings that is, we argue, more valuable in the end.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)589-604
Number of pages16
JournalModern Language Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Word Meaning as a Palimpsest: A Defense of Sociocultural Theory'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this