Article excerpt


English phrases play an important role in language description and acquisition. The most frequently used English phrases that should take priority of learning can be sorted out mainly by quantitative analysis with the help of modern English corpus. Second language phrases acquisition deserves a considerable research topic in second language vocabulary acquisition.

Key Words: lexical phrases, second language phrases acquisition, corpus

Résumé: Les expressions anglaises jouent un rôle important dans la description et l'acquisition linguistiques. Les expressions anglaises utilisées le plus fréquemment qui donnent la priorité à l'apprentissage peuvent être dégagées principalement par des analyses quantitaves avec l'aide du corpus d'anglais moderne. L'acquisition des expressions anglaises de la seconde langue mérite d'être un sujet de recherches important dans l'acquisition du vocabulaire de la seconde langue.

Mots-Clés: expressions lexicales, acquisition des expressions de la seconde langue, corpus


With the research of first language vocabulary acquisition, second language vocabulary acquisition research has emerged since the 1970s. From 1980s to 1990s, many scholars such as Linnaud (1986), McKeow & Curtis(1987), Nation(1990), Nattinger & DeCarrico(19 92),Coady & Huckin(1997) published some books specializing in this area (Song, 2002). Recently, some Chinese scholars (Dai, 2000;Lian, 2001; Song, 2002; Liu, 2002) have also made similar research. Among them, Nattinger & DeCarrico(1992), Lian (2001) focused their research on phrases acquisition, that is, the function of lexical phrases and its application in language teaching and learning. This created a new research area to second language vocabulary acquisition.

However, among thousands and millions of English phrases, what should second or foreign language learners (say, English learners in China) priorly learn? There is a widely accepted principle in second or foreign language teaching and learning: the most frequently used language items are dealt with first. This principle should also be concerned in terms of English phrases acquisition. The most frequently used English phrases can be sorted out mainly by quantitative analysis with the help of modern English corpus.


2.1 Role of phrases in second language acquisition

"Lexical phrase" is a term first put forward and categorized by Becker (1975). Nattinger & DeCarrico (1992: 36-47) further modified its concept. They said, lexical phrases are lexico-grammatical units that occupy a position somewhere between the traditional poles of lexicon and syntax; they are "prefabricated chunks" that consist of more than one word (hence called multiword). They are of 4 categories:

A. Polywords: Polywords are short phrases which functions very much like individual lexical items. They are continuous and allow no variability. They can be either canonical like "hold your horses, at any rate, a piece of cake" or noncanonical like "as it were, by and large, once and for all".

B. Institutionalized expressions: They are lexical phrases of sentence level, usually functioning as separate utterances. They are mostly continuous and invariable. They are mostly canonical, for example, "a watched pot never boils, how do you do" etc.

C. Phrasal constraints: They are short-to-medium-length phrases. They are continuous and allow variation of lexical and phrasal categories. They can be both canonical and noncanonical. "a...ago (a day ago, a long time ago, etc.) , well as...(this one as well as that one)" are canonical. An example for noncanonical phrasal constraint is "the -er, the -er (the sooner the better, the busier the happier, etc.)".

D. Sentence builders: Sentence builders are lexical phrases that provide the framework for whole sentence. They are both continuous and discontinuous. …