Academic journal article Journal of Social Sciences

'Someone to Open Each and Every Door': Construction Grammar as a Learner Grammar: The Case of English Indefinite Pronouns

Academic journal article Journal of Social Sciences

'Someone to Open Each and Every Door': Construction Grammar as a Learner Grammar: The Case of English Indefinite Pronouns

Article excerpt

Abstract: This paper sets out an applied model of Cognitive Construction Grammar along three dimensions: Compositionality, form as a vehicle for promoting the emergence of grammatical meaning from lexical meaning and construal. The model of Cognitive Construction Grammar put forward here implies that the Applied Linguist may have to collect and explain a wider repertoire of grammatical forms than were considered previously. This extended repertoire may have the advantage of giving the learner a deeper understanding of semantic constraints on how we use a particular construction. It also means that forms once considered idiomatic are now being studied as productive and hence grammatical on some sense. The disadvantage is that we have to deal with a larger number of forms and have no clear principle as to where grammar learning ends and lexical or idiom learning begins. This paper discusses the question of what to include under the rubric of grammatical description and how to include it in relation to the SOME-and-ANY-SERIES (somebody/anyone, etc.) indefinite pronouns. It asks how this applied model of construction grammar affects what we present to learners by looking first at the formal attributes of the English SOME- and ANY-SERIES indefinite pronouns themselves and then at some of the types of clause in which the SOME-SERIES appears.

Keywords: Construction Grammar, Learner Grammars, English Indefinite Pronouns


With his 'fundamental difference hypothesis', Bley-Vroman (1990) claimed that the inability of second language users to wean themselves off a quite limited array of chunked forms was due to their having passed the critical age of access to their Universal Grammar. Second language learners depended on prefabricated lexical phrases because they were unable to develop the natural syntax that first language speakers could naturally access. However, others have pointed out how the learner problem may in fact lie not in a failure to use a productive grammar but in a failure to establish the repertoire of 'lexical phrases' that native speakers seem to command (Nattinger and DeCarrico, 1992). Forms such as 'as it were, take lightly, wishful thinking' or 'it goes without saying' are treated as essential to the production of a native-like discourse. From this perspective, the problem for learners is not so much an overuse of fixed forms or chunks but a failure to acquire enough of these lexical phrases to achieve a native-like expressivity.

Holme (2013) has argued that a failure to understand the cause of many second language errors lies in a larger failure of linguistic description. A crude dichotomy between what is lexical and what is grammatical means that the true nature of the learner problem is misunderstood. Examples 1-2, taken from a corpus of Hong Kong students' academic writing illustrate the type of problem over which the intermediate or advanced learner often stumbles:

(1) The enthusiastic behaviour which teacher performs (author's data, 2010-2011)

Some might call Example 1 a collocational error, or one that relates to failure to find the right lexical phrase for 'performs'. In a Cognitive Construction Grammar (CCG), correlations should be rationalised by an understanding of the semantics of words and of the forms into which they do or do not fit. Generally the complementation of this verb 'perform' profiles 'a role' or 'play'. The error in Example 1, therefore, seems to be one we would categorise as lexical because it is finally about a failure to grasp the semantics of 'perform'. In construction grammar, however, grammaticality is finally always about finding the right fit between words. The decision as to whether Example 1 is a grammatical or lexical error is therefore more difficult to make.

To understand the problem of how to categorise Example 1, let us consider an imaginary type of error that is similar in some ways. Thus, we hear a learner say 'I go the car' instead of 'I start the car'. …

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