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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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5. Findings I – Patterning 121


121 5. Findings I – Patterning As described in the previous chapter, the lexical trail analysis traces lexemes and their co-texts in the participants’ compositions and incorporates insights from the writers on their choices of words, the origins of words/patterns and reasons for revisions. It also includes the elicited patterns in the test data. Therefore, each participant’s lexical trail analysis provides different perspectives on L2 patterning: the nature of each participant’s linguistic patterns and each participant’s learning of them. In this chapter, I will first give an overview of the kinds of patterns which emerged in the lexical trail analysis, with a focus on the degrees of stability and variability in patterning. This provides an initial response to two of my broad research questions: What sorts of lexicogrammatical patterns are used by the participants? How do L2 lexicogrammatical patterns change over time? I will then focus more closely on the stable patterns and consider the roles of patterns in the participants’ minicorpora. 5.1 An overview of patterns in co-text In the process of extracting, memoing and analyzing the lexical trails, it became clear that some lexemes consistently occurred in certain linguistic environments. To determine the extent of this, recurring patterns were coded for each participant. A recurring pattern was one which repeated in a participant’s dataset in exactly the same form in different compositions (called a fixed pattern) or in a similar form either in one or more compositions (called a stable pattern). These criteria are shown in Table 11. Full...

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