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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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2. Lexicogrammatical patterns 19


19 2. Lexicogrammatical patterns Observation of the phenomenon of patterning in language springs from the Firthian tradition in linguistics, which, along with Vygotskyan psychology, maintains that word and idea are inseparable and irre- ducible (Firth [1951] 1968, p. 97; Vygotsky 1962). In this tradition, a knowledge of language involves knowing words, their usual combi- nations and the cultural knowledge they entail (Stubbs 2001). Since Firth established ‘collocation’ and ‘colligation’ as levels in linguistic analysis in the 1950s, a considerable amount of research has contrib- uted to an understanding of the nature and extent of lexicogrammatical patterning (e.g. Nattinger/DeCarrico 1992; Moon 1998; Hoey 2005; Sinclair 2004, 1991; Wray 2002; Pawley/Syder 1983; Erman/Warren 2000; Hyland 2000; Wray 2008).3 John Sinclair, a pioneer of corpus- based research who was responsible for a great deal of the theorizing on language patterning described collocation as when ‘the choice of one word conditions the choice of the next, and the next again’ (2004, p. 19). In this view, one property of a word is its capacity to select its co-text, or its immediate linguistic environment. This was evident in my attempt to naturalize Chomsky’s famous sentence: sleep selected soundly, ideas selected fresh, ideas deselected sleep soundly and se- lected catch on. The whole sentence comprises interlocking chunks. This fluidity makes it difficult to ascertain where the linguistic bounda- ries lie and therefore to define the formal qualities of collocation or colligation. There are numerous terms and definitions for syntagmatic re- lations between lexical items. ‘Formulaic...

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