Applied Linguistics research

For the past several years, I have been researching an area of applied linguistics known as Formulaic Language and, in particular, the acquisition and use of formulaic expressions by second language (L2) speakers of English.

Although defined in many different ways, a common way to view formulaic expressions is as sequences of words that can in some sense be treated as a whole lexical unit. From this perspective, any of the following examples could be formulaic for a particular individual speaker:

  1. by and large
  2. turn a blind eye to
  3. an accounts manager in Finance

Suppose an L2 speaker of English was presented with these to learn. How might they go about internalising them as single lexical units?

It might seem that (1) would necessarily need to be memorised as a single unit because the component words give no clue to the meaning. On the other hand, (3) might be constructed initially and come to be treated as a single unitary expression after being used repeatedly over time (because it is the speaker’s job perhaps). What of (2)? Either option seems possible: it could be learnt as single unit or might need to be broken down into parts first.

These examples illustrate the kinds of question raised when considering the acquisition of formulaic expressions by L2 speakers. For example: How can we tell whether an expression is formulaic for a speaker? How does the internalisation to a single unit take place? How might the component parts of the expression influence this process?

My research addresses questions such as these, with a focus on the identification of formulaic expressions in speech and the possible psycholinguistic processes involved in their acquisition by individual L2 speakers.