From monolithic accuracy to plurilithic usage: Reconceptualising grammar for English teacher education
A talk by Chris Hall, University of York St John
SLA scholars and TESOL practitioners tend to conceptualize grammar uniquely in terms of monolithic native-speaker norms, even though:
(a) native speakers follow different sets of norms, and vary even in core areas of grammar;
(b) few if any L2 learners come to know the target norms accurately and completely;
(c) some native-speaker norms may not be appropriate in some post-instruction usage contexts; and
(d) conformity with them may not be necessary, either.
Furthermore, a norm-focused perspective on the nature of grammar suggests a monolithic set of rules as regulations imposed from without, rather than a plurilithic network of regularities constructed from within. Usage-based approaches to language conceptualize grammar in ways which capture the reality of multiple attainments through instructed learning and constant development post-instruction; but as yet there is very little empirical evidence regarding the nature of the language resources that individual learners come to know and use.
In this talk I use corpus data to describe a tiny fragment of the grammar of a single L2 English user (the can/could you V alternation in email requests) and contrast it with community and genre norms. The analysis shows that the constructions’ specific configuration, unique to the user, was determined in part by distributional patterns in the input, but also by learning factors and a general exemplar-based inertia in production. I use the analysis to illustrate the kind of usage-based reconceptualization of grammar that is required if teachers are to base their practice on a more realistic, learner-centred ontological stance.