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Review of  Formulaic Language and the Lexicon

Reviewer: Hürriyet Gökdayı
Book Title: Formulaic Language and the Lexicon
Book Author: Alison Wray
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Philosophy of Language
Issue Number: 13.2054

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Date: Tue, 16 Jul 2002 12:29:50 EEST
From: Hurriyet Gokdayi
Subject: Wray (2001) Formulaic Language and the Lexicon

Wray, Alison (2001) Formulaic Language and the Lexicon. Cambridge University Press, 352pp, hardback ISBN 0-521-77309-1, $64.95.

Hürriyet Gökdayı, Department of Turkish Language and Literature, Mersin University

Our everyday language significantly contains routine elements. Speakers (of a language) easily recognize their form and keep them in their memory as prefabricated units. Though they are commonly used, their structural boundaries have not been clearly stated and what role they play in the production and comprehension of linguistic messages has not been firmly established. With her book "Formulaic Language and the Lexicon," Alison Wray attempts to explore the nature and purposes of formulaic language and gradually build up a "unified description and explanation of formulaic language and its status relative to the lexicon" (p.5). Wray also aims at giving us a full account of the vast literature in various fields that somehow includes formulaic language and providing an inclusive approach to explain what language is and how we use it.

Wray's book is divided in 6 parts and 14 chapters, which are followed by notes (pp. 283-300), references (pp. 301-326) and index (pp. 327-332). It also includes 21 figures and 5 tables (listed in pp. vii-viii). The book is organized as follows:

Part I. What Formulaic Sequences Are

Chapter 1. The Whole and the Parts (pp. 3-18)
In this chapter, Wray states the focus of her book as formulaic elements of the language because we need to include them in our explanation of how language works and certain modern theories of linguistics (e.g. generative syntax) ignore them. She asserts that linguists should recognize "the role of formulaicity" that fundamentally affects our "understanding of the freedoms and constraints of language" (p.5). Having reviewed the majority of findings in this field, Wray puts forward a hypothesis to explain what formulaic language is that "it is a dynamic response to the demands of language use and, as such, will manifest differently as those demands vary from moment to moment and speaker to speaker" (p.5). She also offers replacing "formulaic language" with "formulaic sequence" (defined in p. 9) because it has not been used in the literature and it can capture all characteristics of formulaicity. Wray also proposes "a dual-processing systems" (p. 14) to explain how speakers treat linguistic material. This proposition contains two processing ways, namely holistic and analytic. She favors holistic processing to utter and decode formulaic elements because it simply reduces processing effort for the speaker and the hearer.

Chapter 2. Detecting Formulaicity (pp. 19-43)
In this chapter, the author discusses what kinds of tools could be used to identify formulaic sequences (FS). Wray reviews the potential roles of the following features associated with FS in her pursuit of identifying the subject: Intuition of individuals; shared knowledge of the same speech community; frequency counts in texts; structure, internal composition, fixedness, and phonological form of FS; fluency and pause, stress and articulation, and pronunciation while speaking; liaison in French; and code-switching in bilingual speech. The author concludes that there is no single criterion that helps to distinguish FS from similar structures, e.g. idioms. Therefore, FS should be governed by some unified criteria.

Chapter 3. Pinning Down Formulaicity (pp. 44-66)
This chapter includes a detailed review of form, function, meaning, and provenance, which are the main themes used to describe FS in the literature. Form-based approach enables researchers to determine descriptive characteristics of FS but do not explain the wide variety of fixed and grammatical sequences and invariable structures. Function-based approach associates FS with situations but some do not require a situation for their utterance. When it comes to meaning-based account, Wray thinks that semantics and pragmatics are easily mixed in this method. Provenance is another theme adopted to determine the boundaries of FS. Wray cites Peter (1983) saying that 'the speech formula' [FS] is fabricated either though social negotiation or individual evaluation (p. 59). However, this model also cannot solve all the problems related to the identification of FS. For example, when listeners hear a new sequence, it is difficult for them to describe the utterance as formulaic, as in the example of "to take a rain check" in British English. In addition, Wray considers using continuum model to determine precisely what formulaicity is. Nonetheless, the inherent problem with continuum models that how to decide the base of any given model still remains. Wray's discussion in this chapter suggests that attempts to define FS based on a single theme or characteristics are eventually destined to fail because none of them covers all aspects of formulaicity. Consequently, there might be a need to utilize all discussed features together to pin down FS.

Part II. A Reference Point

Chapter 4. Patterns of Formulaicity in Normal Adult Language (pp. 69-92)
Having focused on the language of adult native speakers in this chapter, Wray aims at determining some reference points about the use and functions of FS to make comparisons with the language of children, non-natives and aphasics in later chapters. She evaluates probable roles of FS in traditional oral texts (oral storytelling and poetry), sports commentaries, auctions, and weather forecasts. While composing those texts, speakers purposely utilize FS to lessen processing effort both for hearers and for themselves, and eventually become very fluent in their delivery of the texts. It seems that reducing the processing effort is the most visible function of formulaicity. Besides, Wray identifies additional functions that FS serve such as signaling identity, manipulating the situation, and elevating the interlocutor or someone else. The evidences presented in this chapter imply that there seem to be several roles for FS relating to the speaker and the hearer.

Chapter 5. The Function of Formulaic Sequences: A Model (pp. 93-102)
Based on the discussions in previous chapter, this relatively short chapter proposes that all of the functions of FS actually serve the promotion of the speaker's interests (listed in p. 95-96). Wray presents a model in which various functions of FS are reduced to three (p.101): The reduction of the speaker's processing effort, the manipulation of the hearer, and the marking of discourse structure. Then, they are further reduced to one single function that overrides all others. That is the speaker's promotion of self. Even though that is a non-linguistic problem, speakers solve it through a linguistic tool (FS).

Part III. Formulaic Sequences in First Language Acquisition

Chapter 6. Patterns of Formulaicity in Child Language (pp. 105-127)
The author shows that early stages of child language also feature various kinds of FS such as rhymes, songs, and simple greetings. Based on the literature review, Wray argues that children use both analytic and holistic processing while acquiring their first language. In the process of learning and making use of their first language, children basically have four main goals, that are to get things done, express individuality, gain control of language, and feel part of the group (Figure 6.3 in p. 125). In order to achieve these goals, children tend to employ FS mostly that are either created by fusing strings of words or formed by reproducing complex utterances of care givers. The reason for this tendency is that FS lessen the processing effort for both parts of the communicative exchange.

Chapter 7. Formulaic Sequences in the First Language Acquisition Process: A Model (pp.128-139)
This chapter discusses how children know not to analyze FS and add them in their memory as a whole when acquiring the first language. There are identificational and definitional cues for FS that were presented in Chapter 2 and 3. Wray maintains that those cues are not necessarily available to children who do not learn language for the sake of learning grammar but do acquire language for the purpose of communicating with others. Children rarely apply the analytic processing during first language acquisition and "operate with the possible largest unit" (p. 138). As Wray points out, children do use analytic processing only when they need to do (e.g., acquiring literacy, learning how to read and write). To explain the relevant balance of holistic and analytic processing during first language acquisition, Wray proposes a developmental account (Figure 7.1 in p. 133). This account suggests that children pass through four phases concerning analytic and holistic processing during first language acquisition. Children start with holistic processing and end up having a balance between holistic and analytic processing in late teenage years.

Part IV. Formulaic Sequences in a Second Language

Chapter 8. Non-native Language: Overview (pp. 143-149)
In this another short chapter, Wray discusses how to make use of the findings of second language learning research in her exploration of FS and how to make judgements about them. She reviews the evidence from second language acquisition research to explore "the ways in which formulaic sequences seem to be used, or not used, to support the individual's promotion of self, by promoting fluency and ensuring hearer comprehension" (p. 145). The evidence suggests that the use of FS by second language learners depends mainly on their priorities in socio-interaction and processing. Then she presents a summary of the main patterns found in this data in pp. 147-149.

Chapter 9. Patterns of Formulaicity in Children Using a Second Language (150-171)
In this chapter, Wray evaluates the results of 14 case studies, which specifically focused on the role of FS in children's learning a second language. Those studies were conducted with 21 children (12 girls, 9 boys), aged approximately 2 to 10. The subjects in these experiments established their first language before they were exposed to a second language. Based on her review, Wray maintains that children also express themselves holistically in a second language by employing FS in most cases. They primarily have four goals as in the case of first language acquisition (presented in Figure 6.3 in p.125). FS serve as a means of accomplishing one or more of those goals for children in the second language learning process.

Chapter 10. Patterns of Formulaicity in Adults and Teenagers Using a Second Language (pp. 172-198)
Wray reviews the available data on second language learners concerning the roles FS in the language acquisition process. This data consists of 7 studies examining FS in the process of adults' learning a second language naturally and 20 studies carried on classroom setting. Based on the data, Wray indicates that teenagers and adults learning a second language are unable to balance between formulaicity (holistic processing) and creativity (analytic processing). The evidence suggests, as Wray argues, that they seem to use either too much or too less FS and behave too creatively in the process of acquiring a second language. This approach might hinder the success in the acquisition of a second language.

Chapter 11. Formulaic Sequences in the Second Language Acquisition Process: A Model (pp. 199-213)
Having reviewed the relevant literature, Wray proposes "a second language version of the first language model" (p. 199) to explain the complex roles of FS in the process of learning another language. According to the model, there are three main points: 1. Adult second language learners make mistakes when they retrieve and reconstruct FS from their memory because they take apart FS to get the lexical constituents, store them separately, and do not keep information about how word strings stay together. 2. They are not able to acquire and employ FS in the same way children do because they perceive the word as the main unit of the language structure. 3. Contrary to the native speakers, they understand collocations as separate items, which become paired. This model is able to account many differences between child and adult second language learners in relation to the acquisition and use of FS. Children could easily learn, store, retrieve and use FS as a whole with holistic processing because their goal is to control the environment and have a place within it. However, adult second language learners usually prefer the analytic approach towards FS, which indicates a firm control to the language units. Adults frequently fail to recognize that FS are units that belong, not go, together and there is no need to separate them.

Part V. Formulaic Sequences in Language Loss

Chapter 12. Patterns of Formulaicity in Aphasic Language (pp. 217-246)
This chapter presents the role of FS in one type of language loss, aphasia, in which the left hemisphere of the brain is damaged. It has been discovered that FS could survive the most types of aphasia because people store at least some, if not all, FS in the right hemisphere and/or subcortex. Wray examines the data to find answers to following questions: 1. How do aphasics treat FS in their processing? There is plenty of evidence, Wray presented, that aphasics treat formulaic word strings like words rather than phrases or sentences. 2. What kind of role do FS play in language processing of the aphasic speaker? Aphasic people have much more difficulty in the promotion of self because their language processing ability is somewhat impaired. Therefore, as studies suggest, aphasic speakers depend on FS more than normal speakers do in order to get their message across for it reduces the processing effort for the speaker and the hearer. In addition, they use FS for commenting and giving answers, which is different from normal speakers, who use them "for questioning and expressing personal beliefs, attitudes, feelings and emotion" (p. 236).

Chapter 13. Formulaic Sequences in Aphasia: A Model (pp. 247-258)
In this chapter, Wray draws another model to explain aphasic language with reference to normal adult language. With her model (Figure 13.1 in p. 249), she divides the lexicon of a normal person (adult native speakers and in this case non-aphasic) in five sections in relation to the function each serves. First section includes the lexical units used to grammatically construct novel utterances. Second stores referential expressions. Third contains elements used in routine interactional situations. Fourth retains memorized texts. Fifth consists of fully reflexive expressions. In this model, first and second sections are located in the left hemisphere while the rest is located in the right. These five sections all holistically store elements with different sizes (morphemes, words, word strings). In addition, Wray's model includes multiple representation of elements in different sections as exemplified by the author in pp. 252-253. According to Wray, it is possible with this model to explain that aphasic people whose left hemisphere damaged are not able to produce fully grammatical novel utterances because their lexicon have lost first and second sections. It is also possible to explain why aphasics are able to utter and use FS because third, fourth and fifth sections of their lexicon located in the right hemisphere are still intact.

Part VI. An Integrated Model

Chapter 14. The Heteromorphic Distributed Model (pp. 261-281)
In this final chapter, Wray proposes a "macro" model of lexicon in which all the models presented in different chapters were drawn into a unified model (Figure 14.1 in p. 263) called The Heteromorphic Distributed Lexicon. The model divides lexicon in five subgroups each featuring the distribution of three types of formulaic elements (the morpheme, the formulaic word and the formulaic word string). This model is "the repository of all linguistic units which are not subject to further segmentation and which are therefore handled as holistic units" (p. 264). Wray asserts that individuals' priorities determine the nature of the lexicon. She reaffirms that a single system processing cannot be adequate to explain the handling of all linguistic material by speakers and hearers. Instead, a dual-system model, in which language is processed in both holistic and analytic ways, possibly provides a better explanation of processing linguistic input and output. Therefore, we can clearly see how grammar works and "how language use determines patterns of distribution and frequency" (p. 278). Wray concludes declaring that researchers must examine linguistic behavior "as one manifestation of more fundamental ... socio-interactional priorities such as the promotion of the self" (p. 281).

I have been stimulated a great deal by Wray's book 'Formulaic Language and the Lexicon.' The author gives an extensive review of the literature concerning FS in the fields of discourse analysis, language acquisition, and language pathology. Having surveyed a vast amount of research findings, Wray provides different kinds of tools that could help us to identify and define FS. She then presents four models to explain how the speakers and the hearers handle FS in adult native language, first and second language acquisition processes, and aphasics. In the conclusion, Wray proposes a final model, which unifies all previous models and presents the distribution of all linguistic units, formulaic and non-formulaic, in the lexicon of a speaker. This model enables us to explain how we use, process and store formulaic and other elements of the language.

Wray makes three important points:
1. Speakers possess a dual-processing system, in which analytic processing is used to produce and comprehend grammatical novel utterances, and holistic processing system is used to utter and comprehend formulaic elements of the language. The processing effort required for the holistic processing is lesser than that of the analytic process.
2. Formulaicity is commonly used to promote the self.
3. Formulaicity is placed at the center of the language.

While the book is both interesting and inspiring, it's worth to consider some minor weaknesses. First, though the title contains the term "Formulaic language," it has been replaced with "formulaic sequence" in the rest of the book. Wray offers this term for the place of 'formulaic language' and 58 other terms used to refer to formulaic parts of the language. She thinks that formulaic language "is too commonly used to be free of such associations [the same term used to used for different things]" (p. 9) and it cannot be defined clearly. Wray gives a definition of formulaic sequence which is "a sequence, continuous or discontinuous, of words or other elements, which is, or appears to be, prefabricated: that is stored and retrieved whole from memory at the time of use, rather than being subject generation or analysis by the language grammar" (p. 9). This definition is inclusive but seems to be incomplete and not clear enough. Wray uses the term 'other elements' in the definition but do not explain what the 'other elements' are.

In addition, a sequence implies units or morphemes that are attached to each other. In this case, it is hard to assume that such words like 'yes, no, huh' are formulaic sequences. Wray later differentiates between types of FS and uses the terms 'formulaic word strings, formulaic word and morpheme. Wray also admits that "the term [formulaic sequence] will have to be used fairly loosely and a coverall" (p. 9).

Second, in Chapter 2, Wray considers liaison in French as a criterion to detect formulaicity (p. 39). I think this is a little confusing because liaison might be used to identify formulaic elements in French but not in English.

Third, in chapter 2 and 3, Wray reviews the relevant literature and evaluates the criteria for the identification and description of FS which "are not a single and unified phenomenon" (p. 66). Therefore I assumed that Wray would provide us a framework in which we could utilize a bunch of criteria to determine and clarify FS. Instead, she presents models that explain how FS are treated by native adult speakers, children, second language learners, and aphasics.

Fourth, I am concerned with the contradictory methods in the discussions of FS in first and second language acquisition processes. Having considered teenage years as a stage in children's first language acquisition process in chapters 6 and 7, Wray discusses and evaluates the research findings from this perspective. However, she regards teenage years as a period in adults' second language learning in chapters 10 and 11, and examines the literature based on this categorization. I think this approach do not give a reliable account of the research findings.

Fifth, I don't accept the term 'polyglot' for the place of bilingual in Chapter 13 (p. 298). Wray uses 'polyglot' "simply to avoid the much more loaded term bilingual. Normally a polyglot speaks at least three languages, but we shall take the epithet here to refer to anyone who has knowledge of at least two" (note 10 p. 298). I think this replacement is not necessary because these terms have been widely employed in linguistics and any researcher could easily recognize and define them.

Sixth, in page 97, the subject and the object of a sentence is the same: "When the speaker wishes to manipulate the speaker..." The later 'the speaker' should be replaced with 'the hearer.'

Finally, Wray cites Nickels (1997) saying, "a single Turkish noun can have more than four million different forms" (p. 268). I wonder how Nickels came up with this huge number. As a native speaker and researcher of Turkish, I would argue that this statement is an exaggeration. While its true that Turkish is an agglutinative language which has a productive morphologic system, four million different forms for a single noun is inconceivable.

Despite these minor criticisms, the book covers a wide variety of topics related to the nature and purpose of FS. It will, for sure, inspire a great deal of future research. I would recommend the book to ethnographers of communication, researchers of language acquisition, language pathologists, cognitive scientists and anyone who has a desire to understand how we use and comprehend formulaic elements of the language.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Hürriyet Gökdayı teaches grammar, syntax, and linguistic courses at the Department of Turkish Language and Literature, Mersin University. His doctoral dissertation (University of Washington, Seattle) was about the ways of speaking and ethnography of communication in Turkey. He is currently doing research on formulaic language in Turkish. His other interests are semantics, language and culture relationship, and language policy.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0521773091
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 344
Prices: U.S. $ 65
U.K. £ 47.5