Cognitive Insights into Discourse Markers and Second Language Acquisition

by Iria Bello (Volume editor) Carolina Bernales (Volume editor) Maria Vittoria Calvi (Volume editor) Elena Landone (Volume editor)
©2019 Edited Collection X, 256 Pages


This volume employs a range of empirical methodologies – including eyetracking, direct observation, qualitative research and corpus analysis – to describe the use of discourse markers in second language acquisition. The variety of different approaches used by the contributors facilitates the observation of correlations between morphosyntactic, semantic and pragmatic features of discourse markers and enriches our understanding of the cognitive behaviour of L2 speakers, both in the understanding and production of texts. Some of the essays examine the acquisitional paths of discourse markers in instructional and natural contexts, with a particular focus on situations of language contact and social integration; others describe experimental studies that analyse the cognitive processing of discourse markers in L2 learners. All the contributions aim to offer new insights which will expand and develop existing theoretical claims about this area of study and open up avenues for further research.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Introduction: Insights into Discourse Markers: Cognition and Acquisition (Iria Bello / Carolina Bernales / Maria Vittoria Calvi / Elena Landone)
  • Bibliography
  • 1 Evidentiality, intersubjectivity and ownership of the information: The evidential utterances with así que and que in Spanish (Eugenia Sainz)
  • Introduction
  • Theoretical fundamentals for the analysis of the evidentiality
  • The concept of evidential modality
  • Parameters for the analysis of the evidential domain
  • The relationship between evidential modality and epistemic modality
  • The evidential utterance introduced by así que: Form and meaning
  • The evidential utterance-type with así que compared with the evidential utterance-type with que
  • Approaching the evidential function: Subjectivization and strategic justification
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • 2 Processing causality in Spanish-speaking L2 English: An experimental approach to the study of therefore (Elisa Narváez García / Lourdes Torres)
  • Introduction
  • Connectives and causal connectives
  • Causal connectives and the processing of causal discourse relations
  • Methodology
  • Participants
  • Materials and design
  • Data collection
  • Data treatment and analyses
  • Results and discussion
  • Model 1: Explicit and implicit, plausible causal relations
  • Model 2: Explicit and implicit, implausible causal relations
  • Model 3: Plausible and implausible, explicit causal relations
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • Appendix
  • 3 Pragmatic processing in second language: What can focus operators tell us about cognitive performance in L2? (Olga Ivanova / Iria Bello Viruega)
  • Introduction
  • Pragmatic processing in L2
  • Processing pragmatic scales
  • Methodology
  • Experiment and stimuli
  • Technique
  • Participants and procedure
  • Data analysis
  • Results
  • Processing unmarked pragmatic scales with complex, explicit alternatives
  • Processing marked pragmatic scales with complex, explicit alternatives
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • 4 Processing focus operators and pragmatic scales: An eye-tracking study on information processing in English L2 (Iria Bello Viruega / Carolina Bernales)
  • Introduction
  • The focus operator even
  • Eye-tracking experiments in Second Language Acquisition
  • Methodology
  • Dependent variables
  • Design and independent variables
  • Experiment procedure
  • Data collection
  • Results and discussion
  • Variable a: Presence/absence of the operator
  • Variable b: Informative/non-informative focus
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • 5 The discourse markers sí, claro and vale in Spanish as a Foreign Language (Christian Koch / Britta Thörle)
  • Introduction
  • Sí, claro and vale: Affirmation particles and discourse markers
  • Methodology
  • Results
  • Comparing DM repertoires of intermediate and advanced learners
  • Comparing DMs before and after the stay abroad: Three case studies
  • Interlanguage usages of sí, claro and vale on different proficiency levels
  • Claro
  • Vale
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • 6 A pilot study on the use of discourse markers in the oral discourse of language learners of Spanish (An Vande Casteele / Kim Collewaert)
  • On the concept of ‘discourse markers’
  • Discourse markers and second language acquisition
  • Methodology
  • Results and discussion
  • General results
  • The use of conversational markers in the oral corpus
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • 7 The appropriation of discourse markers by students of Italian as a Foreign Language in a sequence of action-oriented learning tasks (Marilisa Birello / Roberta Ferroni)
  • Introduction
  • Action-oriented approach in the textbook Bravissimo!
  • Methodology
  • Data collection
  • Results and discussion
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • 8 Expressing agreement in L2 Italian: Strategies and discourse markers in Spanish learners (Margarita Borreguero Zuloaga)
  • Introduction
  • The expression of agreement in closely related languages
  • Methodology
  • The corpus
  • The theoretical framework
  • Results and discussion
  • Spanish DMs in the learner corpus: The role of code-switching
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • 9 Discourse markers, interlanguage level and social integration: The immigrant learners in the Naples area (Patrizia Giuliano / Rosa Russo / Simona Anastasio)
  • Introduction
  • Previous studies and research goals
  • Methodology
  • Data analysis and results
  • Linguistic competence and socio-biographical variables
  • Discourse markers: Percentage and functional evaluations
  • Discussion
  • Interactional and meta-textual DMs
  • Inferential Markings
  • Linguistic results and socio-biographical variables
  • Conclusions
  • Acronyms, abbreviations and symbols
  • Bibliography
  • Notes on contributors
  • Index

| vii →


Figure 2.1. Scale of difficulty

Figure 3.1. First-pass reading time (unmarked scale)

Figure 3.2. Second-pass reading time (unmarked scale)

Figure 3.3. Total reading time (unmarked scale)

Figure 3.4. First-pass reading time (marked scale)

Figure 3.5. Second-pass reading time (marked scale)

Figure 3.6. Total reading time (marked scale)

Figure 4.1. First-pass reading time, variable a (presence/absence of the operator)

Figure 4.2. Second-pass reading time, variable a (presence/absence of the operator)

Figure 4.3. Total reading time, variable a (presence/absence of the operator)

Figure 4.4. First-pass reading time, variable b (informative/non-informative focus)

Figure 4.5. Second-pass reading time, variable b (informative/non-informative focus)

Figure 4.6. Total reading time, variable b (informative/non-informative focus)

Figure 5.1. Percentage rate of as affirmation particle and as DM

Figure 5.2. Intonation of vale in MW-1, line 39: reception signal

Figure 5.3. Intonation of vale in MW-1, line 66: turn-opening marker

Figure 5.4. Intonation of vale in MW-1, line 69: hesitation marker

Figure 9.1. Linguistic competence and biographical variables

| ix →


Table 2.1. Experimental conditions and example items from topic A

Table 2.2. Total reading time values

Table 2.3. First reading time values

Table 2.4. Second reading time values

Table 2.5. Total reading time values

Table 2.6. First reading time values

Table 2.7. Second reading time values

Table 2.8. Total reading time values

Table 2.9. First reading time values

Table 2.10. Second reading time values

Table 2.11. All the conditions’ AOIs

Table 2.12. Differences in the total reading time values of the analysed conditions

Table 5.1. Speech rates in Spanish FL

Table 5.2. Number of markers in free dialogue speech: Intermediate proficiency level

Table 5.3. Number of markers in free dialogue speech: Advanced proficiency level

Table 5.4. Number of markers before and after the stay abroad (intermediate level)

Table 5.5. Number of markers before and after the stay abroad (advanced level)

Table 5.6. Number of markers before and after the stay abroad (advanced level)

Table 6.1. Discourse markers by learners of Spanish

Table 6.2. Discourse markers by native speakers

Table 7.1. Activities in unit 6 of Bravissimo! 3-B1

Table 7.2. Types of activities proposed in Unit 6 based on Ferroni and Birello’s categorization (2016) ← ix | x →

Table 7.3. Total number of activities and activities that were actually performed out of Unit 6 of Bravissimo! 3-B1

Table 8.1. A.Ma.Dis. learner corpus: Number and type of interactions

Table 8.2. Most frequent DM expressing agreement in the A.Ma.Dis. Corpus

Table 8.3. Total number of occurrences of d’accordo divided by main functions

Table 8.4. Total number of occurrences of ok divided by main function

Table 8.5. Total number of occurrences of bene divided by main function

Table 8.6. Total number of occurrences of va bene divided by main functions

Table 9.1. The Senegalese group: Dialogues

Table 9.2. The Ukrainian group: Narrations

Table 9.3. The Ukrainian group: Dialogues

Table 9.4. The Srilankese basic group: Dialogues

Table 9.5. The Srilankese advanced group: Dialogues

Table 9.6. Native Italian speakers vs Polish learners

| 1 →


Introduction Insights into Discourse Markers: Cognition and Acquisition

This volume brings together a selected group of empirical studies about the interconnections of Discourse Markers (henceforth DMs) and Second Language Acquisition (henceforth SLA). As a matter of fact, DMs’ cognitive processing and SLA reveal a research space that has continued to develop in methodological terms. As a matter of fact, whereas early studies often focused on the grammar of Discourse Markers (Weydt 1979, Martín Zorraquino 1998), current research treats them as a functional class and resorts to proposals stemming from different theories of communication and discourse, mainly from Argumentation Theory (Anscombre and Ducrot 1983; Anscombre, Rodríguez and Gómez-Jordana 2012), Relevance Theory (Sperber and Wilson 1995) or Cognitive Linguistics (Sweetser 1990; Langacker 1991, 2001). Corpus (Gast 2006; Aijmer 2013; Zufferey and Degand 2013; Gast and Rzymski 2015; Polat 2011) and experimental studies have proved that empirical methodologies are useful for the description of discourse markers (Loureda, Cruz, and DPKog 2013, 2014, 2015; Loureda et al. 2015; Zufferey, Mak, Degand, and Sanders 2015; Loureda, Nadal, and Recio 2016a, 2016b; Nadal, Cruz, Recio, and Loureda 2016; Nadal, Recio, Rudka, and Loureda 2017; Zufferey and Gygax 2017; Loureda, Recio, Nadal, and Cruz forthcoming) and different approaches have been used to describe them (Maschler and Schiffrin 2015). These include theoretical (Schiffrin 1987 [1982]; Foolen 1996; Blakemore 2004; Fischer 2006; Landone 2009), descriptive (König 1991; Dimroth and Klein 1996; Panders and Sanders 2006; Traugott 2006) and contrastive perspectives (Andersen, Brizuela, Dupuy, and Gonnerman 1999; Bouma, Hendricks, and Hoeksema 2007; Gast and van der Auwera 2011; Liu ← 1 | 2 → 2013; Borreguero Zuloaga and Gómez 2015; Loureda, Parodi, Rudka, and Salameh forthcoming).

In applied linguistics, specifically in second and foreign language acquisition studies, DMs have been a growing research topic (Meng and Strömqvist 1999; Müller 2006; Bini and Pernas 2007; Hellermann and Vergun 2007; Andorno 2008; Piedehierro 2009; De la Fuente 2009; Djigunovic and Vickov 2010; Fuentes Rodríguez 2010; Loureda 2010; Hernández 2011; House 2013; Pihler Ciglic 2014; Guil 2015; Heidari Tabrizi and Vaezi 2015; Jafrancesco 2015; Van Silfhout, Evers-Vermeul, and Sanders 2015; Zufferey et al. 2015; Andorno and Rossi 2016; Thörle and Borreguero Zuloaga 2016; Fant 2016). Undoubtedly, DMs are a difficult category to define, because it includes a large group of heterogeneous words which only share a functional purpose. Moreover, the functions they can fulfill actually cover many patterns of human communication, which results in a really high frequency of use. Therefore, they are pragmatically complex and communicatively frequent, and that is challenging for a foreign/second language learner, especially concerning input comprehension, stages of acquisition and questions of form and content processing in second language acquisition (Long 1981; Van Patten 1984, 1990; Chaudron 1985; Færch and Kasper 1986; Sharwood Smith 1986; Yule 1986; Danesi 1987; Ellis 1990; Schimdt 1990; Van Patten and Cadierno 1993; Johnston 1995). On the contrary, DMs are easily learnt in bilingual contexts because of their communicative relevance. L2 DMs are acquired early and are even used in L1 speech as tag switches or emblematic code-switching, that is, emblems of the bilingual character of a monolingual sentence, stressing affiliation, dual identities, etc. (Poplack 1980). Some studies suggest that L2 markers first enter L1 speech as emblematic codeswitches, then they become established borrowings, and even lead to the loss of the native marking system (Goss and Salmons 2000; Maschler 2000; Matras 2000; Calvi 2016; Hlavac 2006; Rocchi 2008).

The insights that we can gather on the nature of this pragmatic family through a cognitive processing lens lead us to focus those peculiarities of DMs that could cast light on language acquisition. The study of the process and the results of acquisition of DMs offer the opportunity to focus on those ‘acquisitional incidents’ that may reveal new insights into ← 2 | 3 → the nature of these particles: Why are they so difficult to learn? Why is a semantic approach not successful? Why are they overused and misused by learners? Moreover, it seems that only those learners who achieve a high proficiency level in a L2 are able to master the use of DMs (Charaudeau and Maingueneau 2005: 373), which confirms the proposition that DMs are linguistically relevant units and, at the same time, they are communicatively and cognitively very difficult to learn.

All the chapters in this book adopt a different but complementary focus and share insights on cognition and foreign or second language acquisition, with the exception of Chapter 1, which deals with native speakers’ use of DMs and can be considered our starting point as it sets a baseline to understand their use. DMs are very efficient means to handle speech and interaction and to guide the listener’s comprehension and inferential processes, but it is not always easy to understand the reasons that lead speakers to select among different DMs which are functionally similar. Even in native speakers, the complexity and over-availability of DMs can sometimes generate confusion and misunderstanding. From this point of view, the learning of a second or a foreign language increases the complexity of the pragmatic system already acquired in L1, and pragmatics is definitely the linguistic level in which it is more difficult for non-native speakers to develop native-like competence.

The contrastive approach which in Chapter 1 is internal to one language becomes interlingual in the other chapters. Each one of them is devoted to a different combination of native and target language. The foreign and second languages investigated are English, Italian and Spanish; the relationship between L1 and L2 also differ: in some cases they are closely related (Spanish to Italian in Chapter 7; Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish and Catalan to Italian in Chapter 8) and in other cases they are more distant languages (Spanish to English in Chapters 2 and 4; German to English in Chapter 3; German to Spanish in Chapter 5; Dutch to Spanish in Chapter 6); in Chapter 9, Italian is the target language for learners with different native languages (Ukrainian, Sinhalese, Pular, Wolof and Polish). Even if some space is devoted to comparative analysis, the approach is mostly contrastive, as far as cognitive processes are involved, both in native speakers and in foreign/second language learners. Thanks ← 3 | 4 → to the cognitive focus of each chapter, many results are equally applicable to different foreign languages.

This volume sheds light on similarities and differences between DMs processing in L1/L2 and gives some responses to the questions on the difficulties for learners. In some chapters, namely Chapter 4, the aim is precisely to compare the pragmatic processing in native and non-native, although highly proficient, English speakers. But the problem is also to highlight the factors which can influence the process and guide the learners to achieve better or even almost native-like proficiency. The status of the interlanguage can obviously have an effect on the level of proficiency in DMs’ use, but the acquisition process is not linear and can be influenced by different aspects, such as the immersion in the target language. In natural environments, the search for social integration is a very strong pulling factor. In foreign language learning, the acquisition of DMs seems to be facilitated by the adoption of teaching techniques which promote participative involvement and metalinguistic awareness in action. In general, explicit attention must be paid to these units, all along the learning process, stressing on functional properties more than the construction of formal repertoires.

Common theoretical sources and empirical basis contribute to reinforce the results of these intertwined studies, which offer a wide range of methodological approaches and techniques: recorded or video recorded storytelling (Chapter 5), oral narratives (Chapter 6), role-play interactions (Chapter 7) and sociolinguistic interviews (Chapter 9); reading experiment monitored by eye-trackers (Chapters 2, 3 and 4); ethnographic observation (Chapter 8). The stress on oral expression is also dominating.

Chapter 1 by Eugenia Sainz (‘Evidentiality, intersubjectivity and ownership of the information: The evidential utterances with así que and que in Spanish’) focuses on the meaning and function of Spanish evidentials and discusses presumption of relevance and emotional involvement. Using a similar perspective, Elisa Narváez García and Lourdes Torres, in ‘Processing causality in Spanish-speaking L2 English: An experimental approach to the study of therefore’ (Chapter 2) study the inferential guide that causal connectives offer. The authors conducted an eye-tracking ← 4 | 5 → reading experiment and their conclusions support the recurrent observation on the rigidity of the procedural meaning that causal connectives embody. In Chapter 3 (‘Pragmatic processing in second language: What can focus operators tell us about cognitive performance in L2?’), Olga Ivanova and Iria Bello Viruega highlight the scientific debate on language processing in L1 and L2. The authors conclude that the differences between native and non-natives speakers in cognitive processing depends on the different way in processing semantic and pragmatic information rather than to differences in native and non-native language systems. They show that pragmatic processing in L2, albeit native-like in comprehension, is not as sensitive to subtle inferential contrasts. In Chapter 4 (‘Processing focus operators and pragmatic scales: An eye-tracking study on information processing in English L2’), Iria Bello Viruega and Carolina Bernales apply the same empirical methodology to cast light on the inferential process and the cognitive effort that focus operators involve in non-native speakers of English. Once more we see that pragmatics is the key to correctly comprehend and interpret Discourse Markers in a second language.

In Chapter 5, Britta Thörle and Christian Koch study ‘The discourse markers sí, claro and vale in Spanish as a Foreign Language’ and observe that learners acquire affirmation markers according to their proficiency level and that, in low proficiency, learners overuse them in a multifunctional way; besides the affirmative use, they assign the DM interactional, metadiscursive, and cognitive functions. Using a more communicative focus, in Chapter 6 (‘A pilot study on the use of discourse markers in the oral discourse of language learners of Spanish’), An Vande Casteele and Kim Collewaert examine the use of discourse markers in oral narratives produced by language learners of Spanish and contrast the results with the findings of a control group of Spanish native speakers to show their importance in the interpretation of language learners’ discourse.


X, 256
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (February)
Discourse markers Second Language Acquisition (SLA) Cognitive Linguistics Experimental Pragmatics
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2019. X, 256 pp.,18 fig. b/w, 35 tables

Biographical notes

Iria Bello (Volume editor) Carolina Bernales (Volume editor) Maria Vittoria Calvi (Volume editor) Elena Landone (Volume editor)

Iria Bello is a research assistant at Heidelberg University, where she also teaches English and Spanish language and culture at the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. Her research interests include historical sociolinguistics and cognitive and corpus linguistics. Carolina Bernales is Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the Pontifi cia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso-Chile. Her research focuses on lexical processing and reading comprehension in a second language and she has also has published on classroom interaction and foreign language learning. Maria Vittoria Calvi is Professor of Spanish Linguistics and Translation at the University of Milan and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Cuadernos AISPI. Estudios de lenguas y literaturas hispánicas. Her research interests include comparative Spanish and Italian linguistics, discourse analysis, Spanish and Italian in migration contexts, genre analysis and cross-cultural variation in professional and specialized discourse, with a particular focus on the language of tourism. Elena Landone is Associate Professor of Spanish at the University Degli Studi in Milan. Her main research fields are discourse markers, pragmatics and foreign language teaching and she is the author of Los marcadores del discurso y la cortesía verbal en español (2009).


Title: Cognitive Insights into Discourse Markers and Second Language Acquisition
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
268 pages