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Study On Chinese Advanced Efl Learners' Language: Formulaic Language And Linguistic Creativity

Posted on:2011-03-04Degree:DoctorType:Dissertation
Country:ChinaCandidate:L WangFull Text:PDF
GTID:1115330332459123Subject:English Language and Literature
Abstract/Summary:PDF Full Text Request
Language has long been viewed as a highly systematic and rule-governed behavior of human beings. Such a linguistic theory has dominated the last several decades. In fact, in language acquisition research, many researchers have concentrated on demonstrating the involvement of creative cognitive processes in language learning and the systematic nature of learner language. It is obvious that learner language, just like full adult language, is based on a system of generative rules. In essence, language is operated on the continuum of lexicon and grammar, and formulaic language is just within that continuum and function as the interface of grammar and lexicon. At the same time, formulaic language has been observed by many researchers in language use. Simply put, formulaic language refers to the prefabricated multi-word lexical strings that can be retrieved and used by learners as a whole. One of the obvious differences between the native speakers and L2 learners lies in the production of formulaic language. However, after many years of language learning, what do L2 learners rely on in the target language communication: on memorized chunks or on the learners'linguistic knowledge to generate (or create) language?Formulaic language goes hand in hand with linguistic creativity in that they are the two ends of a continuum along which people use language in a dynamic way. The present study has sought to establish the argument that creativity in language use is not simply the preserve of the native speaker, but instead is a quality that all humans to a greater or lesser extent tend to share, with no exception for language learners, whether second or foreign language learners. We believe language acquisition is not merely the result of mechanic imitation. It involves the process of creativity similar to the acquisition of one's first language, though limitations are also obvious. The present study aims at investigating two factors relating to proficiency in language communication of Chinese learners of English. The first factor has to do with learners'ability to use formulaic language, which is believed to facilitate language proficiency, to help acquire more native-like interlanguage, and to exert less effort on the working memory in language processing. The second factor is concerned with the capacity for creativity in language use based on knowing the linguistic knowledge of English by Chinese EFL learners. Since there have been no empirical studies in this respect before, the present study intends to fill the gap with the help of various theories on these two aspects of language use.The present study makes a qualitative and quantitative analysis of the written data collected from Chinese learners of English. Following a cross-sectional design, a pilot study was conducted first, examining learner oral production in the retelling tasks in terms of formulaic use and linguistic creativity. The major study was carried out by collecting the data from advanced university learners of English (221 English Majors and 300 Non-English majors respectively) whom we referred to as advanced learners. We set up two small corpora from which three types of study were conducted. First, we did a general English language proficiency comparison between the two groups of learners by using Readability Analyzer 1.0. Secondly, borrowing the classification of lexical chunks into four groups in terms of their structural criteria, which was suggested by Nattinger and DeCarrico (1992), we compared and analyzed the use of formulaic language in the two corpora. Thirdly, we demonstrated learner linguistic creativity through sample analysis of their compositions, topic specific verb noun combinations and questionnaires distributed among non-native teachers of English (N=50) and native speakers of English (N=40); we wanted to see if judgments of the grammarcality and idiomaticity of instances of learner language would be different.The major findings are summarized as follows:1. The pilot study reveals that even in a highly controlled performance task like retelling, instead of using the chunks directly taken from the input, learners inevitably rely on their knowledge of the target language to create an interlanguage. In the fulfillment of the retelling task, although learners can get authentic language input with instances of many prefabricated lexical chunks, they do not, as one would expect, in their reproduction, produce the same or same amount of chunks. Learners have the ability and the need to reconstruct words, phrases and sentences.2. Although there are proficiency differences between the two groups of learners, we do not find much difference in using formulaic language among learners of different language proficiency groups, either English majors or non-English majors. In order to play it safe in a test situation, the non-English Majors tend to use more lexical chunks, which resulted in some compositions that are relatively dry in content. With regard to the use of formulaic sequences in performing different language functions, evidences are found that our learners are freer in the target language production with the formulaic sequences used mainly for the purpose of linking ideas or for discoursal purpose. Some of the chunks used are quite repetitive and monotonous.3. Concerning the aspect of the linguistic creative potential of the learners, we find that they can be creative only in a syntagmatic choice in constructing sentences. Our learners seldom use their target language knowledge to create new words. It is normal and necessary for learners to exercise their creative ability when they want to express their own thoughts or argue for something culturally specific.4. While we find that learner's creativity may lead to unidiomatic or foreign expressions, it does not pose very serious problems in actual communication. The results of the questionnaire in the present study show that native speakers are relatively more tolerant than Chinese teachers of English. The findings indicate what is important in language teaching i.e. as teachers we should encourage the learners not to be afraid of making mistakes. To experiment with the language and to produce personal ideas with the target language are more important.The present research has both theoretical and pedagogical implications. Theoretically, it offers a relatively thorough discussion on the interface between formulaic language and linguistic creativity and their importance in foreign language teaching and learning. Based on Chomsky's generative idea of language production, we define learner linguistic creativity to be learners'production of the target language with their linguistic knowledge of the target language. Pedagogically, the results obtained from the investigation are expected to provide helpful feedback to language teaching and learning. It is believed that we should obtain a good balance between a) teaching and learning formulaic language and its encouragement, and b) being tolerant with learners'creativity in using the target language for real communicative purposes. Chinese teachers of English, EFL syllabus designers, and material developers should all know that to be creative is human nature; as such interlanguage is an entirely natural phenomenon. Such an objective attitude toward learner language is essential for more effective teaching and learning.
Keywords/Search Tags:formulaic language, linguistic creativity, chunks, target language, interlanguage, learner corpus
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