Linguistics Colloquium

Event Date: 

Thursday, May 29, 2014 - 3:30pm
Children acquire their L1 entirely through interactions with other
speakers; in the same way, L2 learners benefit from participating in
conversations with native speakers. If we assume that any comfortably
proficient L2 speaker cannot have acquired that language ability solely
from textbooks or classroom instruction, then the question arises: in what
ways does conversation help language learners acquire a discourse-based
grammar mirroring that of native speakers?
I take a discourse-functional view of native speaker competence, assuming
that positive evidence (language in use), comprising both frequency and
contexts of usage, plays an important role in native speakers' mental
representations and acquisition of grammar (e.g., Abbot-Smith and Tomasello
2006; Bybee 2006, 2007, 2010). Second-language learners -- not just native
speakers -- have been shown to be sensitive to frequencies of linguistic
expressions and their (syntactic/social/etc.) contexts of use (N. Ellis
2002; N. Ellis & Ferreira-Junior 2009). Many discourse-pragmatic phenomena
found in Japanese conversation are only rarely encountered in the L2
classroom setting; yet exposure to discourse-embedded positive evidence is
essential for developing a native speaker-like mental representation of
Through a case study of subject realization among learners and native
speakers of Japanese, I investigate the extent to which the conversational
grammars of non-native speakers exhibit the same relationships between
grammatical form and discourse function as those of native speakers.
Subject arguments need not be expressed in all Japanese clauses; in fact
they are quite often left unrealized (so-called 'ellipsis') when
information about their referent is "pragmatically retrievable" (Iwasaki
2002: 9). Unexpressed referents can usually be inferred from pragmatic
context (Takagi 2002). Using a mixed-effects model, I show that both native
and non-native speakers' patterns of subject realization are influenced by
discourse-pragmatic factors such as givenness and contrast, and that the
patterns observed among non-native speakers mirror those in native
speakers' speech. I propose that non-native speakers can only demonstrate
such similar sensitivities to discourse-pragmatic factors if exposed to
native-speaker-like frequencies of use in conversation. The findings of
this case study allow for a glimpse into the impact of positive evidence
from natural input on L2 learners' acquisition of discourse-based grammar.
Abbot-Smith, Kristen and Michael Tomasello. 2006. "Exemplar-learning and
schematization in a usage-based account of syntactic acquisition." The
Linguistic Review 23. 275-290.
Bybee, Joan. 2010. Language, usage, and cognition. Cambridge University
Bybee, Joan. 2007. Frequency of use and the organization of language.
Oxford University Press.
Bybee, Joan. 2006. "From usage to grammar: the mind's response to
repetition." Paper presented at the Linguistic Society of America, Oakland.
Ellis, Nick C. 2002. "Frequency effects in language processing: A review
with implications for theories of implicit and explicit language
acquisition." Studies in Second Language Acquisition 24. 143-188.
Ellis, Nick C. and Fernando Ferreira-Junior. 2009. "Constructions and their
acquisition: Islands and the distinctiveness of their occupancy." Annual
Review of Cognitive Linguistics 7. 187-220.
Iwasaki, Shoichi. 2002. Japanese. Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Takagi, Tomoyo. 2002. "Contextual Resources for Inferring Unexpressed
Referents in Japanese Conversations." Pragmatics 12(2). 153-182.