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The Emergence of Patterns in Second Language Writing

A Sociocognitive Exploration of Lexical Trails


Susy Macqueen

This book received the Cambridge/Language Teaching Brumfit Award 2010.
Drawing upon a convergence of sociocultural theory and linguistic emergentism, this book presents a longitudinal investigation of the development of ESL users’ written lexicogrammatical patterning (collocations and colligations). A qualitative methodology (‘Lexical Trail Analysis’) was developed in order to capture a dynamic and historical view of the ways in which the participants combined words in their writing. This involved tracing single lexemes diachronically through individuals’ written corpora. The writers were interviewed about the histories of particular word combinations. Selected patterns were later tested using the principles of dynamic testing. The findings of these combined data types – essays, interviews and tests – suggest that sociocognitive resources such as memory and attention and the ability to imitate and adapt linguistic resources are paramount in the massive task of internalizing the lexicogrammatical patterning of a second language. The participants were agents of change, seeking assistance and adapting patterns to suit their changing goals. Their activity is theorized in a model of language patterning from which implications for second language learning and teaching are drawn.


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1. Introduction 13


13 1. Introduction This is a study of how patterns of use emerge in a second language. Its inspiration came from witnessing the frustration of my English language students as they revisited the present perfect aspect for the upteenth time without sensing any progress towards sounding ‘natu- ral’. Although they are very useful, it seemed that grammatical pat- terns alone – grammar rules – were not enough. In my long hours of attending to the non-nativelike features of my students’ writing, I was struck by how often ‘errors’ were unnatural word combinations, not explicable with a grammatical rule but only through reference to the usage patterns of the language. I would mentally reformulate these uses and then attempt to provide some kind of feedback cue that could help the learner produce something more nativelike. This process impressed me in two ways; first, I became aware of the pervasive- ness and the complexity of language patterns beyond traditional peda- gogical grammars, and second, I realized the enormous challenge nativelike patterning poses for second language learners. At times, it also made me wonder whether my efforts were in any way helpful. Until recently, studies of second language (L2) learning have tended to eschew the complexity of language and language learning; second language acquisition (SLA) researchers have preferred to sim- plify and objectify language and learning by linking the acquisition of discrete grammatical or lexical items to a particular classroom treat- ment (Larsen-Freeman/Cameron 2008a; van Lier 2000, 2004). How- ever, use of language is more...

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