Pineapples?

pexels-photo
Photo by Pineapple Supply Co. on Pexels.com

To understand more deeply what I am going on about here, you should read Geoff Jordan’s blog post, and Mura Nava’s blog post first.

Collocations are one of the things that teachers get tasked to teach often, mainly because collocations are one of the things that appear in books often. I reckon it’s because collocations lend themselves to matching exercises and gap fills rather well. I think both the materials teams and teachers mean well.

The problem is how to get a ton of collocations in your brain to recall almost instantaneously. How do you prioritise the ones to teach and the ones to avoid? It’s the problem that underlies Geoff Jordan’s frequent criticisms of The Lexical Approach. Geoff dismisses Hoey’s work on lexical priming as poorly thought out. I don’t, but nor do I advocate a lexical approach, either. The way I understand Hoey is that words that are frequently used together give us an expectation of being together. For example, how would you finish the utterance “I fancy a ham and pineapple…”?

Nosebleed? (That was the first noun that came to mind.) Pizza? Probably the latter, because it fits due to both our experiences of the world as well as the semantics of the grammar. Lots of work by people at or from Kutas Lab (particularly Kutas & Hillyard, 1980; Bentin et al 1993; Lazlo, S. & Federmeier, 2008; Van Petten et al 1999.) has looked at these semantic expectations in reading, and some in listening, and brain scans showed that when the semantic expectation is violated, our brains produce a much larger N400 event-related potential (ERP), basically a negative electrical charge about 400ms after the stimulus, than when the expectation is met.

In a really interesting, long, quite technical article that I had to read for my MA dissertation, Nick Ellis (2006) uses psychological cueing as the foundation of his theory of learning a second language. Basically, if you see X happen shortly before Y, you associate X and Y. Cues can be stronger or weaker depending on how often them being experienced coincides for the learner. This is where I think Ellis overlaps with Hoey, and the Kutas lab work. I think it also has a lot of ramifications for teaching and learning.

Unlike Geoff, I am not quite so pessimistic about the collocation/colligation problem, or even thinking about the need for something as complex as construction grammar. Think about needs of students, think about the kinds of language experience they are likely to need, make it as understandable as possible, and cover the most commonly occurring items as often as possible – and by items I mean phonological as well as lexical and syntactical. This should help build up psychological cues.

Is it a perfect system? No, it is not. Rarely, if ever, does classroom language teaching come close to the ideal of learning a language as a child. But, the theory says it is likely to work, with some hiccups along the way. Some of the bits of language that are not salient (easily paid attention to) could fall by the wayside. There might be interventions by teachers here as when it is deemed necessary.

So, if we teach in a naturalistic way we should build up cues, no matter how long that takes, and without worrying if they are going to be anywhere near as strong as first-language cues. That, I think, is a realistic goal for language teaching.

References

Bentin, S., Kutas, M., and Hillyard, S. A. (1993) Electrophysiological evidence for task effects on semantic priming in auditory word processing, Psychophysiology 30(2), 161-169.

Ellis, N. (2006) Language acquisition as rational contingency learning. Applied Linguistics 27, 1-24.

Hoey, M. (2005). Lexical Priming. Routledge.

Jordan, G. (2020) Anybody seen a pineapple. What do you think you’re doing. April 21st 2020. https://applingtesol.wordpress.com/2020/04/21/anybody-seen-a-pineapple/

Kutas, M. and Hillyard, S. A. (1980) Reading Senseless Sentences: Brain Potentials Reflect Semantic Incongruity. Science, 1980 (207). 203-205.

Lazlo, S. & Federmeier, K.D. (2008) Minding the PS, queues, and PXQs: Uniformity of semantic processing across multiple stimulus types. Psychophysiology, 45 (2008), 458–466. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.2007.00636.x

Nava, M. (2020) Why the pineapple. EFL Notes. April 22nd 2020. https://eflnotes.wordpress.com/2020/04/22/why-the-pineapple/

Van Petten, C., Coulson, S., Rubin, S., Plante, E., & Parks, M. (1999). Time course of word identification and semantic integration in spoken language. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, And Cognition, 25(2), 394-417. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.25.2.394

2 Replies to “Pineapples?”

  1. Hi Marc,

    I hope you’ll allow me to reply to a few things you’ve said in this post.

    1. “The problem is how to get a ton of collocations in your brain to recall almost instantaneously. How do you prioritise the ones to teach and the ones to avoid? It’s the problem that underlies Geoff Jordan’s frequent criticisms of The Lexical Approach.”

    a) I claim that the problem is that native English speakers know hundreds of thousands of lexical chunks and rely on them for “natural, seamless flows of native-like language use”. For L2 learners of English, as Swan (2006) points out, “memorising 10 lexical chunks a day, a learner would take nearly 30 years to achieve a good command of 10,000 of them”.

    b) I don’t frequently criticise “The Lexical Approach”, I criticise the work of Hugh Dellar, who, in my opinion, misrepresents the work of Swan, Hoey, Krashen, Chomsky, Halliday, N. Ellis and many others, and who advises teachers to spend too much time explicitly teaching lexical chunks, without providing clear criteria for selecting which chunks to teach.

    c) I recognise the importance of lexical chunks in English, and agree with Long’s methodological principle for TBLT: encourage inductive “chunk” learning.

    2. “Geoff dismisses Hoey’s work on lexical priming as poorly thought out.”

    I don’t dismiss Hoey’s work on lexical priming as “poorly thought out”. I recognise Hoey as a brilliant linguistics scholar, and I think he has made a tremendous contribution to our understanding of English. I criticise his radical conclusion that “since grammar and semantics are post-hoc effects of the way lexical items have been primed, … there is no right or wrong in language. It makes little sense to talk of something being ungrammatical”. This echoes Wray’s quip which I quoted in my latest blog post “it’s formulaicity all the way down”. Hoey argues that we should look only at attested behaviour and abandon descriptions of syntax. I think most teachers would reject this view; pedagogical grammara are helpful and, pace Hoey, people speaking English (including learners of English as an L2) invent millions of novel utterances every day by making use of, among other things, grammatical knowledge. I also criticise Hoey’s explanation of SLA –a subject he knows relatively little about – and the way Dellar & Walkley and Leo Selivan misrepresent Hoey’s views.

    3. “Lots of work has looked at semantic expectations”

    This work has been done with native speaker participants. Personally, I don’t think it’s the best explanation of L1 linguistic competence, but in any case, it begs the question of how L2 learners can acquire this knowledge.

    4. “Nick Ellis (2006) uses psychological cueing as the foundation of his theory of learning a second language.”

    This is an inadequate summary of Nick Ellis’ UB theory of SLA. Here’s what he himself says:

    “The major principles of the framework are that SLA is Construction‐based, Rational, Exemplar‐driven, Emergent, and Dialectic. Language learning involves the acquisition of constructions that map linguistic form and function. Competence and performance both emerge from the dynamic system that is the frequency‐tuned conspiracy of memorized exemplars of use of these constructions, with competence being the integrated sum of prior usage and performance being its dynamic contextualized activation. …. The L1 tunes the ways in which learners attend to language. Learned‐attention transfers to L2 and it is this L1 entrenchment that limits the end‐state of usage‐based SLA. But these limitations can be overcome by recruiting learner consciousness, putting them into a dialectic tension between the conflicting forces of their current stable states of interlanguage and the evidence of explicit form‐focused feedback, either linguistic, pragmatic, or metalinguistic, that allows socially‐scaffolded development” (N. Ellis, 2006).

    5. “Unlike Geoff, I am not quite so pessimistic about the collocation/colligation problem, or even thinking about the need for something as complex as construction grammar. Think about needs of students, think about the kinds of language experience they are likely to need, make it as understandable as possible, and cover the most commonly occurring items as often as possible. ….. This should help build up psychological cues.”

    Thinking about students’ needs is a good start to addressing “the collocation/colligation problem”, but the advice to “cover the most commonly occurring items as often as possible” so as to help “build up psychological cues” looks to me like dodging the hard questions. Construction Grammar needs to be critically evaluated; UB theory needs to be more simply and clearly articulated; and the criteria for the selection of lexical chunks which receive attention in any given ELT syllabus need to be more widely and openly discussed.

    1. Ah, cheers, Geoff. I could have sworn I’d seen a bit more of a vehement disavowal of Hoey on your blog before. I stand corrected.

      Yes, the Ellis – I could have put in more about dynamic systems and form focus but I did want to look at the overlaps there.

      I would love it if someone would do partial replications of the ERP studies with L2 users. I think it would be very useful to see what is (not?) going on in L2 brain activity. It seems like a lot of neurolinguistics has so far overlooked L2. Though I have heard rumblings about some of this in the offing.

      For me CG looks less pedagogically useful than SFG, and UB is linked to pedagogy no more or less badly than UG . I would say, that chunks depend on what you would normally talk about, so it’s likely to be an unsatisfying ‘horses for courses’ answer, in my eyes at least.

      Thanks again!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *