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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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8. Discussion 267


267 8. Discussion This study has been as much a methodological exploration as it has been a lexicogrammatical one. It complements the body of re- search on vocabulary learning, which has not generally been sub- ject to qualitative, ethnographic investigation. Lexical trail analysis is a detailed, holistic, process-oriented and historical method which has the potential to reveal a great deal about the use of language. However, it is limited by the accuracy of introspection methods (see Chapter 4), the timing of the interviews and the co-constructed nature of interview data (Talmy 2011), the accessibility of other sources, the amount of contextual information and the amount of data collected. Many times during the analysis, I wondered why I had asked a particular question in a certain way or why I had not asked about a certain word or pattern. This is somewhat inevitable, since the analysis evolves with the data collection, however, in future ap- plications, greater attention should be paid to the corpus patterns from the early stages of the participants’ writing to ensure that the interviews are more focussed on repeating lexemes (as well as ask- ing questions about a range of patterns as I did). These corpora, as with any corpus, are limited by quantity, but since the analysis is diachronic, they are also limited by time. Further, the study is itself an artifact of its times. In years to come, the patterning of academic English will have shifted and the ‘norms’ implied or stated here will no...

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