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The Second Language Acquisition of English Non-Finite Complement Clauses – A Usage-Based Perspective

  • One of the most essential hypotheses of usage-based theories and many constructionist approaches to language is that language entails the piecemeal learning of constructions on the basis of general cognitive mechanisms and exposure to the target language in use (Ellis 2002; Tomasello 2003). However, there is still a considerable lack of empirical research on the emergence and mental representation of constructions in second language (L2) acquisition. One crucial question that arises, for instance, is whether L2 learners’ knowledge of a construction corresponds to a native-like mapping of form and meaning and, if so, to what extent this representation is shaped by usage. For instance, it is unclear how learners ‘build’ constructional knowledge, i.e. which pieces of frequency-, form- and meaning-related information become relevant for the entrenchment and schematisation of a L2 construction. To address these issues, the English catenative verb construction was used as a testbed phenomenon. This idiosyncratic complex construction is comprised of a catenative verb and a non-finite complement clause (see Huddleston & Pullum 2002), which is prototypically a gerund-participial (henceforth referred to as ‘target-ing’ construction) or a to-infinitival complement (‘target-to’ construction): (1) She refused to do her homework. (2) Laura kept reading love stories. (3) *He avoids to listen to loud music. This construction is particularly interesting because learners often show choices of a complement type different from those of native speakers (e.g. Gries & Wulff 2009; Martinez‐Garcia & Wulff 2012) as illustrated in (3) and is commonly claimed to be difficult to be taught by explicit rules (see e.g. Petrovitz 2001). By triangulating different types of usage data (corpus and elicited production data) and analysing these by multivariate statistical tests, the effects of different usage-related factors (e.g. frequency, proficiency level of the learner, semantic class of verb, etc.) on the representation and development of the catenative verb construction and its subschemas (i.e. target-to and target-ing construction) were examined. In particular, it was assessed whether they can predict a native-like form-meaning pairing of a catenative verb and non-finite complement. First, all studies were able to show a robust effect of frequency on the complement choice. Frequency does not only lead to the entrenchment of high-frequency exemplars of the construction but is also found to motivate a taxonomic generalisation across related exemplars and the representation of a more abstract schema. Second, the results indicate that the target-to construction, due to its higher type and token frequency, has a high degree of schematicity and productivity than the target-ing construction for the learners, which allows for analogical comparisons and pattern extension with less entrenched exemplars. This schema is likely to be overgeneralised to (less frequent) target-ing verbs because the learners perceive formal and semantic compatibility between the unknown/infrequent verb and this pattern. Furthermore, the findings present evidence that less advanced learners (A2-B2) make more coarse-grained generalisations, which are centred around high-frequency and prototypical exemplars/low-scope patterns. In the case of high-proficiency learners (C1-C2), not only does the number of native-like complement choices increase but relational information, such as the semantic subclasses of the verb, form-function contingency and other factors, becomes also relevant for a target-like choice. Thus, the results suggests that with increasing usage experience learners gradually develop a more fine-grained, interconnected representation of the catenative verb construction, which gains more resemblance to the form-meaning mappings of native speakers. Taken together, these insights highlight the importance for language learning and teaching environments to acknowledge that L2 knowledge is represented in the form of highly interconnected form-meaning pairings, i.e. constructions, that can be found on different levels of abstraction and complexity.
Author:Lina Azazil
Referee:Sabine Arndt-Lappe
Advisor:Ute Römer
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of completion:2020/01/22
Date of publication:2022/06/21
Publishing institution:Universität Trier
Granting institution:Universität Trier, Fachbereich 2
Date of final exam:2020/06/04
Release Date:2022/06/21
Tag:Usage-based linguistics; cognitive linguistics; frequency effects; non-finite complement clauses; second language acquisition
GND Keyword:Englisch; Fremdsprachenlernen; Verb; Verkettung
Volume (for the year ...):2022
Number of pages:xi, 287 Seiten
First page:ii
Last page:287
Licence (German):License LogoCC BY-NC-ND: Creative-Commons-Lizenz 4.0 International

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