Our faculty provide a wide range of expertise and specialisation in the fields of modern synchronic linguistics. Topics that feature prominently in English Linguistics at Bremen are lexico-grammatical variation in native and non-native varieties of English, second language acquisition and learner corpus research, Systemic Functional Grammar, (bilingual) lexicography, and sociolinguistics.
Much of our research makes use of databases, tools and methods that have been compiled and developed in the field of Corpus Linguistics. Corpus linguistics is the study of language involving computer-based empirical analyses (both quantitative and qualitative) of actual patterns of language use by employing electronically available, large collections of naturally occurring spoken and written texts, so-called corpora. We offers our students access to a wide range of computerized corpora of native (British, American and other varieties of English) and learner varieties of English.
Learner Corpus Research
Learner Corpus Research (LCR) is an interdisciplinary field at the crossroads of Corpus Linguistics, Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research and theory and Foreign Language Teaching. In the last two decades, LCR has made a substantial contribution to the description of advanced interlanguages. While it is highly plausible that advanced interlanguages are subject to psycholinguistic processes, e.g. native language (L1) transfer and other forms of cross-linguistic influence, there is also evidence that advanced learners of various L1 backgrounds have similar problems and face similar challenges on their way to near-native proficiency. In particular, they typically struggle with the acquisition of optional and highly L2-specific linguistic phenomena, often located at the interfaces of linguistic subfields, e.g. the syntax-semantics and syntax- pragmatics interface.
Learner-corpus based research here in Bremen examines lexico-grammatical variation, discourse-functional and pragmatic aspects of learner language, focusing on Advanced Learner Varieties (ALVs), i.e. a stage of acquisition shared by learners independent of the L1 and subject to a set of organizational principles and constraints. Despite the growing interest in the (very) advanced stages of acquisition, there remain three desiderata for researchers interested in the characteristics of ALVs from the perspective of SLA and/or LCR, but also from the point of view of language testing and assessment:
- a definition and clarification of fuzzy concepts such as 'advancedness', 'nativelikeness' and 'near-native competence';
- an in-depth description of ALVs, especially as to learners' acquisition of optional and highly L2-specific phenomena in all linguistic subsystems;
- the operationalization of such a description in terms of linguistic criteria for the assessment of advancedness.
Our research project "Lexico-grammatical variation in advanced learner varieties" adopts a variationist perspective on SLA by combining a learner corpus approach with research on the advanced stages of L2 acquisition. It has three major aims:
- to create an empirical basis to explore patterns and determinants of lexico-grammatical variation in advanced learners' written academic English: the Corpus of Academic Learner English (CALE)
- to apply these findings to inform English language teaching at the advanced levels and foreign language teacher education, e.g. by making recommendations for syllabi in academic writing classes
- to develop a set of linguistic criteria for the assessment of advanced proficiency.
Our research program focuses on the study of L2 learners' acquisition of the influence of several determinants that govern constituent order and the choice of constructional variants. One reason for this is that such variation is often located at the interfaces of linguistic subsystems, an area where advanced learners still face difficulties. In addition, the many semantic, structural, discourse-motivated and processing-related determinants that influence this variation have been widely studied in corpus-based research on L1 English, but to date, lexico-grammatical variation has not been well researched in L2 and is only beginning to attract researchers' attention. Lexico-grammatical variation represents a challenging field of research because in L2 the many determinants play together with several interlanguage (IL) specific ones such as L1 and proficiency level. In writing in particular, some further context- and task-specific factors like register/genre, audience, and task-setting further add to a highly complex interplay of factors.