Testing the Cognitive Categorisations of at in Native and Non-Native English Speakers. Evidence from a Corpus Study

April 2008. Volume 3 Issue 1

Testing the Cognitive Categorization of at in Native and Non-Native English Speakers. Evidence from a Corpus Study1

Elsa Gonzalez-Álvarez
University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Susana M. Doval-Suárez
University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Elsa González-Alvarez is a Lecturer in English at the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain). Her research interests are in the area of second language acquisition. Her early work concentrated on the lexical solutions provided by L2 learners to overcome deficits in written production. This work is reflected in Adquisición y aprendizaje del léxico de una L2 (1999). She then moved on to consider the use of problem solving strategies to overcome lexical problems in L2 oral communication, in particular on the use of morphological creativity and word coinage, as reflected in her PhD dissertation (Lexical Innovation in the Oral Production of English by Spanish Learners), or in Interlanguage Lexical Innovation (2004), among others. Lately, she has focused on the acquisition of L2 prepositions from a cognitive perspective as well as on the effect the manipulation of task complexity has on L2 acquisition (in Investigating Tasks in Formal Language Learning, P. García-Mayo (ed.) 2007).

Susana Doval-Suárez is a Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics in the Department of English, University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain), where she received her PhD (awarded the 2003 PhD Extraordinary Prize of the Faculty of Philology, University of Santiago de Compostela). Her research interests include English orthography (both from a diachronic and a synchronic perspective), Contrastive Linguistics, and Second Language Acquisition, with particular reference to the acquisition of a second orthographic system. In this connection, she has described the orthographic interlanguage of L2-English learners following the theoretical framework set by Luelsdorff (1986), as is reflected in The Acquisition of L2-English Spelling (LINCOM Studies in Language Acquisition 10. Lincom Europa, 2004). She is co-author of Análisis de los errores del examen de inglés en las pruebas de acceso a la universidad en el distrito universitario de Galicia (Universidad de Santiago de Compostela: Instituto de Ciencias de la Educación, 1999) and co-editor of Studies in Contrastive Linguistics (Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, 2002) and of The Dynamics of Language Use: Functional and Contrastive Perspectives (John Benjamins, 2005). She has actively participated in the organisation of the last two editions of the International Contrastive Linguistic Conference (ICLC-2 and ICLC-3) held in Santiago de Compostela in October 2001 and September 2003 respectively.

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The purpose of this study is to explore the acquisition of the semantic categories of at by Spanish advanced learners of English. Following the framework of Contrastive Interlanguage Analysis (CIA) (Granger et al., 2001) and using a cognitive model of categorisation (Dirven, 1993), we have studied the learner’s linguistic behaviour from the perspective of which semantic functions the learner uses significantly more or significantly less than a native speaker. The data were drawn from two corpora: the Spanish subsection of the International Corpus of Learner English (ICLE) and the Louvain Corpus of Native Speaker Essays (LOCNESS). The independent samples T-test revealed that the different semantic categories of at occur with similar frequencies in both groups. Nevertheless, NNS significantly overused the category Time as compared with NS, while underusing Space. The results obtained seem to indicate that Spanish advanced EFL learners have mastered the semantic functions of at in a way that comes quite close to the NS use.

Keywords: cognitive linguistics, semantic categorisation, contrastive interlanguage analysis, polysemy, metaphor

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Category: 2008