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ERIC Number: EJ943539
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Oct
Pages: 3
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-1539-0578
Feeding, Breeding, Extinction, and River Length: Problems with Treating Words like Species, Comments on Meara and Olmos Alcoy (2010)
Racine, John P.
Reading in a Foreign Language, v23 n2 p235-237 Oct 2011
In their paper, Meara and Olmos Alcoy (2010) attempted to find a means of estimating productive second language (L2) vocabulary size based on the premise that many known lexical items simply do not appear in learner-produced texts. To do so, they borrowed an ecological model, in which a capture-recapture formula, the Petersen estimate, is used to estimate the number of animals existing in a given environment. As the authors are probably the only vocabulary acquisition researchers searching for applicable models in the 19th century swimming habits of plaice in the German Sea, they should indeed be commended for their original approach. There are, however, a number of aspects to this approach that should be reconsidered before this model can accurately be applied to vocabulary. Meara and Olmos Alcoy listed a number of assumptions that must be made before Petersen's formula can be used to estimate population size. In this article, Racine examines two of these assumptions (Meara & Olmos Alcoy, 2010, p. 226): (1) The population needs to remain constant. The fish must have an equal chance of being caught at Time 1 and at Time 2; and (2) The means of collection must be reasonable. That is, there must be a trap that catches the fish to be counted, and the area in which the fish are caught must be somewhat representative of the river as a whole. In the words of the authors: "If these assumptions do not hold, then the model will not work" (p. 226). Unfortunately, in applying the model to productive vocabulary, the authors seem to have ignored their own stipulation. This is the case in both the design of the experiment and in the interpretation of the results.
Reading in a Foreign Language. National Foreign Language Resource Center, 1859 East-West Road #106, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI 96822. e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A