Department of English

Current Projects

BYLEC  -  Baltic Young Learners of English Corpus

The BYLEC project (Baltic Young Learners of English Corpus) is a cooperation with the universities in Tartu; Estonia, Daugavpils; Latvia, Kaunas; Lithuania and Kaliningrad; Russia on the creation of a corpus of written English produced by 12-year-olds and funded by special funding from the Rector to interdisciplinary projects in the Baltic region.

Förstärkningsord i förändring i den sena nyengelskan, 1700-1900: en historisk socio-pragmatisk analys

Projektet kommer att undersöka (förändringar i) användningen av två grupper av förstärkningsord, nämligen de med upptrappande effekt (t.ex. ‘terribly’, ‘most’) och de med nedtonande effekt (t.ex. ‘slightly’, ‘a bit’) i brittiskt domstolstalspråk 1700-1900. Vi avser att fokusera på faktorer som utgör bakgrund till variation och förändring. En nyhet med vårt tillvägagångssätt är att vi särskilt kommer att uppmärksamma de socio-pragmatiska grunderna för förändring. Vi kommer att stödja oss på en ny och unik resurs, den 14 miljoner ord stora Old Bailey-korpusen (OBC). OBC tillgängliggör språk nedtecknat i situationer med muntligt samspel mellan individer ur skiftande samhällsklasser som agerar i olika sociala och institutionella roller i rättssalen.

Projektgruppen består av professor Merja Kytö (Uppsala universitet), professor Claudia Claridge (universitetet i Augsburg) och FD Ewa Jonsson (Uppsala universitet och Mittuniversitet). Projektet är finansierat av Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (2016-2018).

Academic Writing in a Second or Foreign Language: Formulaic Sequences and Disciplinary Variation

It is now widely accepted that natural language makes considerable use of recurrent multiword patterns or formulas. While the mastery of formulaic sequences of all kinds is a key aspect of native-like fluency, they are notoriously difficult even for L2 learners at advance proficiency levels.

Formulaic sequences, which are pervasive in academic discourse, take different forms, including lexical bundles such as in order to, it can be seen that, phrasal verbs such as put forward, collocations such as research project, take advantage of, and idioms such as come into play. Not only do these sequences help to shape meanings in specific contexts and contribute to the coherence of the text, they also offer an important means of differentiating written texts by discipline. Each academic discipline has its own norms and practices regarding, for instance, its instrumental procedures, its criteria for judging relevance and validity, and its conventions of acceptable forms of argument. Corpus linguistic techniques, which allow sophisticated post-processing of data and statistical analyses, are extremely powerful in exploring formulaic language. Through the study of corpora, i.e., electronic collections of texts, we can produce evidence of reoccurring and co-occurring patterns of language shared in an academic community, and in so doing gain insights into the preferred practices of each discipline.

While corpus research has made significant progress in identifying and describing formulaic sequences in disciplinary writing produced by professional writers and/or native speakers of English, our knowledge of second- or foreign-language (henceforth L2) novice writers’ use and processing of formulaic language in different academic disciplines is still limited. So far, learner corpus studies focus mostly on argumentative or expository essays written by learners who were engaged in language learning. Research on learner corpora involving research-based genres such as project reports and degree dissertations, which may be pedagogically more fruitful than studies of general academic English, is still in its infancy. The proposed project is an attempt to extend our knowledge of the nature and extent of formulaic language in L2 (English) writing by examining corpora made up of research-based papers written by students from a broad range of first language (L1) backgrounds and disciplines.

The project aims to provide empirical evidence of the use of formulaic language in L2 academic writing, i.e., the extent to which the use of formulas vary in frequency, form, and function by discipline and by type of writers. In addition, some emerging issues and questions in the relevant field will receive particular attention in the study. First of all, academic writing is socially situated practice and the use of formulaic language requires shared experience and conceptual fluency . As L2 learners speak different L1s and belong to different cultures while using the target language (TL) that has its own socio-cultural background and preferred ways of saying things, questions remain how L2 speakers’ prior learning experience can influence their acquisition and use of L2 formulas, and how they experience academic conventions in the TL that are specific to their own subject disciplines. Secondly, although there is growing evidence that formulaic sequences are integral to both L1 and L2 acquisition and use, it is questionable whether such formulas help L2 processing in the same way they help L1 processing.

Despite the advantages of having corpora to work with, corpora do not, by themselves, provide explanations. One innovation that the proposed project brings to the arena is the linking up of corpus analysis with other methods of research and sources of data, namely questionnaire surveys and psycholinguistic experiments. The ultimate goal of the proposed project is to contribute to the development of a theoretical model that is rooted not only in usage itself, but in the underlying motivations that determine usage, integrating diverse cognitive, social and historical factors responsible for the shape of formulaic language in L2 academic writing.

As English is the dominant language for research writing such as Master’s and PhD theses in countries like Sweden, the importance for the students to grasp the English language for their own academic disciplines can never be undermined. Given the prevalence of formulaic expressions in academic discourse and the notorious difficulty that non-native speakers have in this respect, the outcome of the proposed project will be of significant importance not only for theory building, but also for more effective language teaching and learning.