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LINGUIST List 17.2144

Tue Jul 25 2006

Diss: Lang Acquisition: Callies: 'Information Highlighting and the ...'

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        1.    Marcus Callies, Information Highlighting and the Use of Focusing Devices in Advanced German Learner English: A study of the syntax-pragmatics interface in second language acquisition


Message 1: Information Highlighting and the Use of Focusing Devices in Advanced German Learner English: A study of the syntax-pragmatics interface in second language acquisition
Date: 25-Jul-2006
From: Marcus Callies <calliesstaff.uni-marburg.de>
Subject: Information Highlighting and the Use of Focusing Devices in Advanced German Learner English: A study of the syntax-pragmatics interface in second language acquisition


Institution: Philipps University Marburg
Program: Foreign Languages and Literatures
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2006

Author: Marcus Callies

Dissertation Title: Information Highlighting and the Use of Focusing Devices in
Advanced German Learner English: A study of the
syntax-pragmatics interface in second language acquisition

Dissertation URL: http://www.staff.uni-marburg.de/~callies/diss.description.pdf

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): English (eng)
German, Standard (deu)


Dissertation Director(s):
Richard Frederick Young
Ruediger Zimmermann

Dissertation Abstract:

The thesis is a contribution to the description of advanced interlanguages and
examines English native speakers' and advanced German EFL-learners' production
and comprehension of specific means of information highlighting. The research
focuses on discourse-pragmatically motivated variations of the basic word order
such as inversion, preposing, and it- and wh-clefts, which are specifically
useful in writing where information cannot be highlighted by prosodic means.

Three main research questions were addressed:
1) What (pragma)linguistic resources do native speakers and learners use to
highlight information?
2) Do native speakers and learners differ in their preferences for the use of
certain (syntactic) means that are available to highlight information?
3) Do the learners have (explicit) knowledge of the syntactic focusing devices
that exist in English, and do they have knowledge of the appropriate contextual
use of these?

Triangulated experimental and learner corpus data were used as corroborating
evidence. The experimental data included elicited production, metapragmatic
assessment, and introspection, while the comparative analysis of argumentative
essay writing was based on material from the International Corpus of Learner
English and the Louvain Corpus of Native English Essays.

The findings show a clear overrepresentation of subject-prominent structures
(it-clefts, existentials/presentationals, extraposition) in the learner data.
This is explained in terms of a typological parameter (subject-prominence), a
constraining factor on learner production. This need for the subject to occur in
canonical position is possibly enforced by transfer of training. These findings
are in line with markedness assumptions that in relation to other syntactic
focus constructions, clefts and other subject-prominent sentence types show a
comparatively low degree of structural markedness because SVO/SVC word order is
retained.

Structures without a canonical sentence-initial subject were not used
productively despite receiving good acceptability ratings. This is explained in
terms of an interplay of subject-prominence and cross-linguistic influence
(avoidance due to unexpected similarity to the L1). Despite the close
similarities between (locative) inversion in English and German, positive
transfer is blocked, and does not enable target-like performance.

In addition, the date reveal an underrepresentation of certain
lexico-grammatical focusing devices in learner production (e.g. emphatic do and
pragmatic markers), and several subtle stylistic differences between native
speakers and learners. These show up most clearly in the degree of the writers'
involvement in the text. Finally, the retrospective interviews provide evidence
for the hypothesis that - in contrast to lexical means such as intensifiers -
even advanced learners have no conscious awareness of syntactic means of
information focusing.

As far as SLA theory is concerned, the findings show that L1 discourse structure
plays a significant role in advanced L2 acquisition, too. While beginning and
intermediate German learners frequently produce incorrect V2-sentences, this can
be observed much less in the advanced stages. Instead, they gradually increase
the use of subject-prominent features in their L2 and move from L1 pragmatic
word order to L2 grammatical word order.

The thesis also has an impact for the study of pragmatics within SLA. It argues
for an extension of the scope of inquiry in interlanguage pragmatics, which has
traditionally been concerned with issues of cross-cultural politeness by
investigating non-native speaker comprehension and production of a small number
of speech acts. However, L2 pragmatic knowledge includes more than the
sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic abilities for understanding and performing
speech acts because the choice and use of focusing devices is clearly
pragmatically motivated.
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