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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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3. Conceptual scaffolding 53


53 3. Conceptual scaffolding In order to gain insights into the processes of L2 patterning, this study draws upon a convergence of two theoretical orientations: emergentism and sociocultural theory. Although these theoretical orientations have been aligned in several configurations (Lantolf/Thorne 2006; Lantolf 2006; Larsen-Freeman/Cameron 2008a; van Lier 2004; Lantolf 2005; Hall 2002), their mobilization in research on L2 lexicogrammatical patterning has taken some negotiation. In this chapter, I will summa- rise and synthesize these theoretical underpinnings, first in general terms and then as each applies to second language learning and to the research focus outlined in the previous chapter. 3.1 Emergence theory Emergence theory, broadly speaking, accounts for the growth of com- plex, dynamic systems or behaviours into organized wholes that are not reducible to the component parts (Clayton 2006). It can be traced to Aristotle’s Metaphysics in which he surmised that ‘the whole is something over and above its parts, and not just the sum of them all…’ (Book H, 1045: 8–10). Inspired by Hegelian philosophy which emphasized the ‘temporalization of ontology’, emergence theory be- came prevalent in the early twentieth century and has recently expe- rienced a resurgence (Clayton 2006). In the last decade, variants of emergentism have been applied across disciplines and to many com- plex phenomena ranging from the development of cities, to compu- ter games technology, to the complexities of the structure and behav- iour of ant colonies (e.g. Theraulaz/Bonabeau/Deneubourg 1999). Languages, too, are emergent phenomena. They are complex systems involving multiple levels...

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