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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A Corpus-based Study of Alternating Ditransitive Constructions in Chinese Learner English
by Xu, Qi, Ph.D., The Chinese University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong), 2014, 226; 3691901
Abstract (Summary)

Combining corpus contrastive interlanguage analysis and usage-based approaches to second language acquisition, the present study targeted the use of English alternating ditransitive constructions by Chinese EFL learners. English alternating ditransitive constructions refer to argument structures that can appear both in the double object construction (DOC) and the prepositional to-dative construction (DAT).

A contrastive analysis of the use of English ditransitive constructions was made between a native English corpus – The Louvain Corpus of Native English Essays (LOCNESS) and a learner corpus – The Chinese Learner English Corpus (CLEC). CLEC is further divided into two sub-corpora based on participants’ educational levels: ST2 (beginner corpus) and ST5&6 (advanced learner corpus). The corpus retrieval software WordSmith 5.0 was used for extracting ditransitive verbs. 16 target verbs were selected on the basis of strict criteria. Systematic analysis was then made in terms of three variables, i.e. pronominality, weight, and semantic classes.

The overall results showed no clear-cut differences in the proportions of DOC versus DAT between the native English corpus and the learner corpus, where DOC (69%) is used much more frequently than DAT (31%), in spite of between-verb variations. It was also found that although Chinese EFL learners have similar sensitivity to ditransitive verbs’ distinctiveness for DOC or DAT with native students, differences still exist regarding the performance of certain individual verbs.

With regard to the three variables under investigation, great differences were found between LOCNESS and CLEC, as well as within the two learner sub-corpora. In terms of pronominality, learners, beginning learners in particular, have a stronger tendency to use personal pronouns as indirect object in DOC, and also use pronouns as prepositional complement in DAT. With regard to weight, beginning learners use the shortest and least complex constituents in ditransitive constructions. In relation to semantic classes, Inherent Transfer is the most frequently used sense among all three groups, but learners are more likely to use the sense of Communication than native students.

A case study was conducted focusing on the prototypical ditransitive verb give. Regarding the variables of pronominality and weight, results were similar to those obtained from the 16 target verbs. As for semantic classes of give, generally speaking, Chinese learners prefer to use the senses of Transfer and Communication, while native students are particularly in favor of employing Enablement and Permission senses, which require the use of more abstract nouns.

In sum, beginning learners show an exemplar-based learning process, with frequent use of pronouns, short constituents, and less various semantic classes. An examination of English textbooks used by beginning learners provided much evidence for the priming effect of input in foreign language learning of ditransitive constructions. Non-target-like formulaic sequences were detected from both beginning and advanced learner corpora. Other impact factors like L1 influence and lack of genre awareness were also incorporated for discussion.

Based on findings from learner English, the study has contributed to usage-based approaches to second language learning, by showing an exemplar-based learning process of Chinese EFL learners, and proving the priming effect of input from English textbooks. It also has given specific pedagogical implications for compilation of teaching materials and classroom teaching practice.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Edwards, Jette Gjaldbaek Hansen
School: The Chinese University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong)
School Location: Hong Kong
Source: DAI-A 76/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Linguistics, English as a Second Language
Keywords: Chinese EFL learners, Corpus linguistics, English ditransitive constructions, Second language learning
Publication Number: 3691901
ISBN: 978-1-321-66888-9
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