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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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6. Findings II – Assistance 167


167 6. Findings II – Assistance Tracing lexemes and their co-texts diachronically though the par- ticipants’ mini- corpora revealed patterns of use which were rela- tively stable as well as patterns which underwent change. Variabil- ity in patterning may indicate learning or development in language systems (Larsen-Freeman/Cameron 2008a; Larsen-Freeman 2006). In the process of compiling and analyzing the lexical trails, variabil- ity in words that combined with a lexeme over time could often be linked to interactions around the text such as feedback or diction- ary consultation. We have already seen this in the evolution of along/ over (the) time in Catalina’s mini-corpus. In this chapter, I will fo- cus on microgenetic change, and in particular, variability that results from sources of assistance. As well as demonstrating how patterns change over time (research question two), this theme responds to the third research question: How do the participants learn L2 lexico- grammatical patterns? As discussed in Chapter 2, the role of assistance is central in Vygotsky’s theory of development. It is the crucial determiner in the zone of proximal development (see Chapter 3), where mov- ing to a more advanced developmental state depends on interper- sonal interaction mediated via human artifacts (Vygotsky 1962: 103; Vygotsky 1978: 84–91). This study encompasses the provision of assistance in three methodological stages: 1) the feedback-revision- reformulation process in essays and then feedback and revision in assignments 2) the test was created on the basis of the interpersonal- intrapersonal cline of use (Aljaafreh/Lantolf 1994) and 3)...

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