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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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4. Methodology 79


79 4. Methodology 4.1 Overview In this study I document the lexicogrammatical patterning produced by four ESL writers, Ping, Catalina, Binh and Thao from their pre-univer- sity preparation to their first university assignments. This occurred over a period of 9 to 17 months. The participants began by writing, receiving feedback and revising IELTS-type argumentative essays (see Appen- dix A for topics). They were interviewed after each essay revision cycle was complete. When they entered university, they continued to participate by receiving language-related feedback on their university assignments. Once a substantial body of writing had been done (more than six compositions), each participant completed a individualized, dynamic test which targeted particular lexical combinations from their previous writing. A summary of their participation is in Table 2. Ping Catalina Binh Thao L1 Chinese Spanish Vietnamese Vietnamese Period of participation 13 months 10 months 17 months 9 months Time spent in Australia prior to participation 2 weeks 1 month 3 months 3 months IELTS score/s during participation 5.5 / 6.5 5.5 / 5 / 6 6 6.5 Course entered Bachelor of Masters of Masters of Masters of Commerce Business Forestry Business Total word count for original writing 6,250 6,761 14,108 3,348 Number of pre-uni essays 5 8 4 5 Number of uni assignments 3 2 3 1 Number of interviews 6 8 5 6 When individualized test was administered 13 months 10 months 19 months 9 months Table 2. Participant summary. 80 4.2 Participants The participants were recruited by...

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