Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 May 2019
Based on writing produced by second language learners at different proficiency levels (CEFR A1 to C1), we adopted a usage-based approach (Ellis, Römer, & O’Donnell, 2016; Tyler & Ortega, 2018) to investigate how German and Spanish learner knowledge of 19 English verb-argument constructions (VACs; e.g., “V with n,” illustrated by he always agrees with her) develops. We extracted VACs from subsets of the Education First-Cambridge Open Language Database, altogether comprising more than 68,000 texts and 6 million words. For each VAC, L1 learner group, and proficiency level, we determined type and token frequencies, as well as the most dominant verb-VAC associations. To study effects of proficiency and L1 on VAC production, we carried out correlation analyses to compare verb-VAC associations of learners at different levels and different L1 backgrounds. We also correlated each learner dataset with comparable data from a large reference corpus of native English usage. Results indicate that with increasing proficiency, learners expand their VAC repertoire and productivity, and verb-VAC associations move closer to native usage.
The authors would like to thank Georgia State University's Scholarly Support Grant Program for sponsoring the project “Language use, acquisition, and processing: Cognitive and corpus investigations of Construction Grammar”; Nick Ellis for his encouragement and support during the initial stages of the project; Matt O'Donnell and Stephen Skalicky for their help with data preparation for and data processing in R; and Luke Plonsky as well as two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on an earlier draft of this article.