Clausal Complements in Native and Learner Spoken English

A Corpus-based Study with Lindsei and Vicolse

by Beatriz Tizon-Couto (Author)
©2014 Monographs 364 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 161


This study deals with the frequency and use of clausal complementation in the oral production of two different Spanish learner groups (i.e. Galician/Spanish learners and Spanish learners) as compared with a further learner group (i.e. German learners) and with native speakers (British students). By using corpus and learner linguistic approaches, this research aims to find out and explain the similarities and differences regarding the use of clausal complementation structures in the oral English of several groups of non-native and native speakers. In addition, this study also depicts the process of collection of the oral corpus VICOLSE, which contains transcripts of spoken English data produced by bilingual Galician/Spanish learners. The identification of variation in the use of clausal complementation across the data sheds light on the particular characteristics of spoken learner language syntax/structuring.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Abbreviations
  • 1. Learner language studies
  • 1.1 Defining Interlanguage and learner language
  • 1.2 A review of learner language studies
  • 1.2.1 Contrastive Analysis
  • 1.2.2 Error Analysis
  • 1.2.3 Interlanguage studies
  • 1.2.4 Contrastive Analysis, Error Analysis and Interlanguage: a common goal
  • 1.2.5 Modern SLA and Contrastive Interlanguage Analysis
  • 1.3 Corpora in the teaching and learning of languages
  • 1.4 Computer Learner Corpora successes and limitations
  • 1.5 Summary and concluding remarks
  • 2. The form and function of complement clauses in English
  • 2.1 A theoretical introduction to complementation
  • 2.1.1 Generative Grammar
  • 2.1.2 Cognitive and Functional grammars
  • 2.1.3 Typological approaches
  • 2.1.4 Summary
  • 2.2 Towards a structural account of complementation
  • 2.2.1 A categorial taxonomy of complements: an introduction
  • 2.2.2 Complementation vs. Modification
  • 2.2.3 Clausal complementation
  • Complementizers
  • Positions of complement clauses
  • The morphology of complement types
  • The syntax of complementation
  • The semantics of complementation
  • 2.3 Verb-governed complementation
  • 2.3.1 Complement-taking verbs (CTVs)
  • 2.3.2 Choice of complement clause type
  • That-clauses
  • Wh-clauses
  • To-infinitive clauses
  • -Ing clauses
  • 2.4 Adjective-governed complementation
  • 2.4.1 That-clauses controlled by adjectives
  • 2.4.2 Wh-clauses controlled by adjectives
  • 2.4.3 To-clauses controlled by adjectives
  • 2.4.4 -Ing clauses controlled by adjectives
  • 2.5 Noun-governed complementation
  • 2.5.1 Head nouns taking that-clauses
  • 2.5.2 Head nouns taking wh-interrogative clauses
  • 2.5.3 Head nouns taking to-clauses
  • 2.5.4 Head nouns taking of + -ing clauses
  • 2.6 A summary of the patterns of clausal complementation
  • 3. VICOLSE: creation and description of an EFL spoken learner corpus
  • 3.1 Written vs. spoken language
  • 3.1.1 The syntax of spoken language
  • 3.1.2 Learner English: differences between oral and written production
  • 3.2 Design and creation of a learner corpus
  • 3.2.1 Data elicitation procedure and activities
  • 3.3 Creation of VICOLSE
  • 3.3.1 Gathering of material
  • 3.3.2 The learners
  • 3.3.3 The tasks
  • 3.4 VICOLSE
  • 3.5 The control corpora
  • 3.5.1 The LINDSEI database
  • 3.5.2 VICOLSE and LINDSEI compared
  • 3.5.3 The native speaker corpus: LOCNEC
  • 3.5.4 Summary comparison of VICOLSE, LINDSEI and LOCNEC
  • 4. A study of complement clauses in learner and native spoken English: VICOLSE, LINDSEI Spanish, LINDSEI German and LOCNEC compared
  • 4.1 Complement clauses in acquisition and learner corpora studies
  • 4.2 Analysis of the corpora
  • 4.2.1 The quantitative and qualitative approaches in corpus studies
  • 4.2.2 Annotating the databases
  • 4.2.3 Analyzing the databases
  • 4.3 The complement-taking verb database
  • 4.3.1 General frequencies
  • 4.3.2 Thator zero?
  • 4.3.3 Complement-taking verbs
  • 4.3.4 That-clauses
  • 4.3.5 Zeroclauses
  • 4.3.6 Wh-clauses
  • 4.3.7 To-clauses
  • 4.3.8 - Ing clauses
  • 4.3.9 Summary and concluding remarks
  • 4.4 Adjective-governed complementation
  • 4.4.1 General results
  • 4.4.2 That/zero clauses
  • 4.4.3 Wh-clauses and if/whether clauses
  • 4.4.4 To-clauses
  • 4.4.5 -Ing clauses
  • 4.4.6 Summary and concluding remarks
  • 4.5 Noun-governed complementation
  • 4.5.1 General results
  • 4.5.2 That-clauses
  • 4.5.3 That/zero clauses
  • 4.5.4 Wh-clauses
  • 4.5.5 The head noun way
  • 4.5.6 To-clauses
  • 4.5.7 -Ing clauses
  • 4.5.8 Summary and concluding remarks
  • 5. Conclusion
  • 5.1 Outline
  • 5.2 Summary of Chapters 1 to 4
  • 5.3 Results and implications
  • 5.3.1 The complement-taking verb database
  • 5.3.2 The complement-taking adjective database
  • 5.3.3 The complement-taking noun database
  • 5.4 Final remarks and further research
  • References
  • Appendix
  • Index


After all these years, I would like to express my gratitude to those who contributed in some way to the completion of this doctoral dissertation.

First, I would like to thank my PhD supervisor, Dr. Javier Pérez Guerra, for providing constant guidance, encouragement and advice since the beginning of my doctorate studies, and specially for all the corrections and revisions made to text that is about to be read.

I owe gratitude to several scholars from the Universities of Vigo and Santiago de Compostela, especially to Dr. Esperanza Rama, Dr. Dolores González, Dr. Rosa Alonso, Professor Teresa Fanego, Dr. Ignacio Palacios and Dr. María José López Couso, who directly or indirectly contributed to the writing of this dissertation.

I would like to show my gratitude to Professor Sylviane Granger, Dr. Gaëtanelle Gilquin and all the team at the CECL (Université catholique de Louvain) for allowing me to use the LINDSEI and LOCNEC data. I am also indebted to Professor Martin Bygate and Dr. Sebastian Hoffmann (University of Lancaster) for their valuable instructions and suggestions which helped me to complete the final parts of this volume.

I am greatly indebted to the students from the University of Vigo who voluntarily gave me their time to provide data for the creation of VICOLSE.

As regards the financial support that facilitated the carrying out of this investigation, I thank the Language Variation and Textual Categorization (LVTC) group (in which I which worked as a research assistant) and the Vicerrectorado de Investigación (Universidade de Vigo).

Last but not least, I thank my family, my parents, sisters, brothers and nieces. Thanks to my close friends too. Unique gratitude goes to Manuel for his unfailing support and patience. ← 9 | 10 → ← 10 | 11 →



Contrastive Analysis


Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis


Contrastive Interlanguage Analysis


Computer Learner Corpora


Complement-taking Verb


Complement-taking Predicate




determined time reference


independent time reference


Error Analysis


English as a Foreign Language


English as a Second Language


Functional Grammar


International Corpus of Learner English


Integrated Contrastive Model




Logical Form


Louvain International Database of Spoken English Interlanguage


Louvain Corpus of Native English Conversation


mother tongue


second language/foreign language


native language


non-native speakers


native speakers


Second Language Acquisition


target language


Universal Grammar


Vigo Corpus of Learner Spoken English

← 11 | 12 → ← 12 | 13 →

1. Learner language studies

The establishment of learner language research as a particular area of linguistic investigation can be traced to the late 1940s and early 1950s, when CA and EA started to compare L1 and L2 and to look at data produced by learners, particularly at errors, with the purpose of improving the learning and teaching of languages. CA researchers were able to find some connection between the learner’s errors and the difference between the learner’s mother tongue (L1) and their second language (L2). CA was mainly concerned with pinpointing the source of errors by contrasting the two languages. EA researchers took on the role of turning learner language (rather than L1 and L2 comparison) into the central element to be examined.

As commented by Selinker (1992: 1), the publication of Corder’s seminal 1967 paper “The Significance of Learners’ Errors” initiated a large number of empirical studies about IL in Second Language Acquisition (SLA). This chapter aims to present a general overview of the evolution of SLA research in order to give a historical perspective of contemporary SLA. The definition of learner language or interlanguage in SLA studies is taken here as the starting point in section 1.1. Furthermore, the present chapter reviews, in chronological order, the traditional approaches to the study of learner language. In section 1.2.1 a brief summary of the evolution of the most controversial aspects of the field of research known as CA is offered. section 1.2.2 deals with the new concepts and ideas introduced by the proponents of EA for the study of learner language. section 1.2.3 is devoted to the main ideas that Interlanguage studies brought forward in the field of SLA. In section 1.2.4, a comparative point between the three proposals for L2 studies outlined in the previous sections is established, taking Sridhar (1981) as a basis. He states that CA, EA and IL could be studied in general as three chronological phases of one similar goal: the study of the factors that influence L2 learners’ acquisition and errors. CA, EA and IL studies prevailed until the 1980s with constant overlapping regarding their basic notions and methodologies. ← 13 | 14 → Due to this overlap, they were gradually submerged into a more general study in the field of L2 acquisition which is known as SLA today (Ellis 1994: 68). Finally, contemporary SLA is revisited and CIA (Granger 1996, 1998a, 2002) is presented as the methodology currently employed by most researchers in this field, and consequently adopted in this research. section 1.3 offers a summary and final remarks as well as some discussion about the successes and limitations of current SLA and CLC studies.

1.1. Defining Interlanguage and learner language

Learner language has been the central object of study of SLA and other areas of linguistics (e.g. psychology, teaching) over the last sixty years, beginning with the work by pioneers such as Fries (1945), Weinreich (1953) and Lado (1957). In contrast with first language acquisition, which studies children’s acquisition of their native language, second language learning (or acquisition) can be defined as the cognitive process of acquiring a linguistic skill or knowledge, namely learning how to use any language after the acquisition of the mother or native tongue. The process of acquiring or learning the new language consists of successive stages through which the learner develops a linguistic system while approximating the target language. The word ‘interlanguage’ summarizes the previous definition and has become the technical term used in linguistics to refer to learner language. However, the term ‘interlanguage’ represents more than a simple notion, since it is closely linked to some relevant methodological and theoretical issues in SLA studies. Thus, the origin and meaning of both the term and the notion of interlanguage are provided in what follows.

An interlanguage is an emerging linguistic system that has been developed by a learner of a L2 who has not become fully proficient yet but is only approximating the target language, preserving some features of her/his L1 when speaking or writing in the target language and creating innovations. The concept and definition of interlanguage ← 14 | 15 → as accepted in SLA studies in the last thirty years were formulated by Selinker (1972: fn 5, quoted in Selinker 1992: 231) as follows:

An interlanguage may be linguistically described using as data the observable output resulting from a speaker’s attempt to produce a foreign norm, i.e., both his errors and non-errors. It is assumed that such behaviour is highly structured. In comprehensive language transfer work, it seems to me that recognition of the existence of an interlanguage cannot be avoided and that it must be dealt with as a system, not as an isolated collection of errors.

Sridhar (1981: 227) summarises in three points the appropriateness of such a term:

1) It captures the indeterminate status of the learner’s system between his native language and the target language; 2) it represents the ‘atypical rapidity’ with which the learner’s language changes, or its instability; 3) focusing on the term language, it explicitly recognizes the rule-governed, systematic nature of the learner’s performance and its adequacy as a functional communicative system (from the learner’s point of view, at least).

Selinker (1992: 31) also stresses that “[i]nterlanguage begins at the beginning whenever one attempts to express meaning in the target language”. Nevertheless, in the prologue to Rediscovering Inter-language, Selinker (1992: xiii) acknowledges that Watkin (1970) was the first to use the phrase ‘IL hypothesis’. Furthermore, Selinker (1992: 259) also accepted that the concept of interlanguage was already present in CA and successive approaches to learner language in the work of scholars such as Lado, Martinet, Weinreich, Briere, Harris, Corder, Van Buren or Nemser, where some sort of ‘in-between’ language or grammar was implied. Also at the beginning of the seventies, other researchers proposed different terms to refer to concepts which were fairly similar to interlanguage as defined by Selinker. Nemser (1971) introduced the term ‘approximative systems’: in this view, learner language is understood as a continuum between the L1 and the L2, where the learner’s departure point is zero and the goal is native proficiency. This concept also highlights the fact that each learner’s linguistic system is particular to that individual (i.e. also called ‘idiosyncratic dialects’ by Corder 1971) and it corresponds nei ← 15 | 16 → ther to the L1 nor to the L2 linguistic system. Similarly, Corder’s (1967: 166) ‘transitional competence’, which he defines as “the learners’ underlying knowledge of the language to date”, basically coincides with Selinker’s and Nemser’s concepts, although it stresses the dynamic aspect of interlanguage, which must be seen as a system in continuous evolution. As commented by Alonso (2002: 51), although Nemser’s and Corder’s terms have been considered synonymous to interlanguage (see Corder 1981), Selinker (1992) disagrees with this view, since he believes that they represent different theoretical points of view. For example, Nemser’s term pays attention to the transitional nature of learner language but ignores fossilization and stabilization of IL subsystems. Furthermore, the term ‘approximative system’ suggests that the learner’s language is ‘discrete’ and always goes in the direction of the L2, disregarding a strategy observed by interlanguage, namely interlingual identifications, which controls the learning process indirectly by the use of avoidance strategies. Such strategies are sometimes wrongly identified as approximations to the L2 rules.

The establishment of the term ‘interlanguage’ (and the other equivalent or similar terms) broke away with the previous traditional CA approach and opened new ways to the description and analysis of L2 data. Selinker’s model also provides a possible explanation about the creation of the interlanguage system. This model includes the following five interwoven processes: native language transfer, transfer of training, strategies of second-language learning, strategies of second-language communication and overgeneralization of the target language linguistic material (see Alonso 2002: 51-52 and section 1.2.3 in this volume). In the interlanguage model, the development of grammatical knowledge in the learner’s mind is seen as more autonomous. Thus, a number of elements which had been previously disregarded now start to be focused on, such as the nature of learner grammar, the development of theories applied to the learning of the L2, and the methodology employed for research.

Furthermore, some years later, Selinker (1992: 164-165) revisited the topic in Rediscovering Interlanguage. In this book, he talks about his discussions on the matter with Corder, who, in a series of papers (Corder 1981, 1983), proposed a view of IL and IL development that moved away from the idea of IL as a ‘hybrid’ between na ← 16 | 17 → tive language (NL) and target language (TL) (Corder 1981, Introduction). Selinker (1992: 164) clarifies that

[i]n this view of IL, the learner begins acquisition (i.e. the learner’s ‘initial IL hypothesis’) not from a ‘fully developed’ form of the NL – i.e. it is not full adult NL knowledge upon which further IL development is based […] For Corder, the initial IL hypothesis is a ‘stripped down’ version of the NL, a ‘simple’, possibly universal code,

where ‘simple’ does not necessarily mean ‘simplified’ (i.e. learners cannot simplify what they do not know). Corder (1983: 91) justifies the existence and use of this simple code by saying that “we all know a simple basic code because we ourselves have created one in the course of acquiring our first language”. He also propounds that a “basic, simple, possibly universal grammar”, either which is learned in some unexplained way or, more probably, “created and remembered” from the learner’s own early linguistic development (i.e. latent universal structures), represents the point of departure of the SLA ‘developmental continuum’. The learning process then consists of an elaboration of this basic simple code in the ‘direction’ of the target language. Nevertheless, other factors, such as permanent non-learning (or fossilization), also play a relevant role in language development.

In more recent years, some scholars have provided definitions of interlanguage, but always in keeping with its original essence. Eubank et al. (1995) characterize it as “the independent system of knowledge developed by second-language (L2) learners”. Alonso (1999: 71, 2002: 51) defines interlanguage as the non-native linguistic system which is different and independent from both the L1 and the L2 and which can be linked to both by the perception of the learner. This system becomes obvious when the learners try to communicate in the L2. Thus, as pointed out by Selinker (1992: 259), “interlanguage has often been there”, in essence, under different or no labels, and will continue to be there since it is nowadays accepted as a universal fact in research concerned with learner language.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (March)
clausal complementation similarities differences
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 364 pp.

Biographical notes

Beatriz Tizon-Couto (Author)

Beatriz Tizón-Couto holds an MA (English Language and Literature) and PhD (English Linguistics) from the University of Vigo. From 2005 to 2009 she taught English at the Centre of Modern Languages at the same university. She worked as a research assistant in the Language Variation and Textual Categorization research unit in Vigo in 2008 and 2009. Currently, Beatriz Tizón-Couto works as a teacher of English at the Official School of Languages in Vigo.


Title: Clausal Complements in Native and Learner Spoken English
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