The contribution of collocations to L1 and L2 fluency

Simone Sprenger, Christopher Bergmann, Monika Schmid

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    In their seminal paper, Pawley and Syder (1983) argued that fluent and idiomatic control of a language is largely the result of what they described as access to "lexicalized sentence stems". Such word sequences are familiar to both speaker and hearer and presumably can be retrieved from the mental lexicon as a whole, thereby freeing processing capacity for tasks other than lexical and grammatical encoding. Accordingly, the use of lexicalized sentence stems is hypothesized to contribute to fluency/ease of processing in free speech, an effect that has been earlier observed in L1 speakers (Kuiper, 1996; Sprenger & Van Rijn, 2013). At the same time, Pawley and Syder point out that in late second-language acquisition, nativelike fluency is difficult to achieve, probably due to the a lack of access to numerous lexicalized sequences. In the present study, we compare the spontaneous speech of monolingual speakers of German, late second-language learners of German, and late German attriters with respect to a range of utterance fluency measures and the use of phraseological units, such as grammatical and lexical collocations, in (see Bergmann, Sprenger & Schmid, 2015, for a report on the disfluency measures). We were especially interested in the late learners of German: do they use phraseological units in their free speech? And if so, is the number of disfluencies in their speech a function of the use of phraseological units? We included the group of late L1-attriters to disentangle possible effects of incomplete language acquisition from those of language competition. We find that all three groups use both grammatical (e.g., interessiert aneinander, lit. 'interested in one another', interested in each other) and lexical (e.g., scharfe Bremsung, lit. 'sharp braking', a sudden slow-down) collocations. However, the two types of collocations do not seem to reflect the same aspects of fluency. First, neither within nor across groups we find a systematic and reliable relationship between the numbers of grammatical and lexical collocations. Second, grammatical collocations (but not lexical collocations) vary systematically with the results of a proficiency test (C-Test, see e.g. Schmid, 2011). Third, lexical collocations (but not grammatical collocations), vary systematically with lexical diversity, as measured with D (McCarthy & Jarvis, 2010). Fourth, lexical collocations (but not grammatical collocations) vary systematically with two measures of disfluency (number of repetitions and number of repairs). As the number of lexical collocations predicts disfluencies, we conclude that our data support Pawley and Syder's original hypothesis that relates lexicalized sequences and fluency, both in L1 and L2 speakers. However, given the differences that we observe between the use of grammatical and lexical collocations, more specific assumptions must be made with respect to the way in which different types of lexicalized sequences are acquired, stored and accessed by late L2 learners in the mental lexicon. References Bergmann, C., Sprenger, S. A., & Schmid, M. S. (2015). The impact of language co- activation on L1 and L2 speech fluency. Acta psychologica, 161, 25-35. Kuiper, K. (1996). Smooth talkers: The linguistic performance of auctioneers and sportscasters. Lawrence Erlbaum. McCarthy, P. M., & Jarvis, S. (2010). MTLD, vocd-D, and HD-D: A validation study of sophisticated approaches to lexical diversity assessment. Behavior Research Methods, 42(2), 381–392. Pawley, A., & Syder, F. H. (1983). Two puzzles for linguistic theory: Nativelike selection and nativelike fluency. Language and communication, 191, 225. Schmid, M. S. 2011. Language attrition. Cambridge University Press. Sprenger, S., & van Rijn, H. (2013). It’s time to do the math: Computation and retrieval in phrase production. The Mental Lexicon, 8(1), 1-25.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages2
    Publication statusUnpublished - 14-Apr-2016
    EventInternational Symposium on Bilingual and L2 processing in Adults and Children - University of Kaiserslautern, Kaiserslautern, Germany
    Duration: 14-Apr-201615-Apr-2016


    ConferenceInternational Symposium on Bilingual and L2 processing in Adults and Children
    Abbreviated titleISBPAC


    • Fluency
    • Bilingualism
    • Collocations
    • nativelike selection
    • nativelike fluency

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