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Construction Grammar meets Typology: From Theory to Teaching

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Constructions (Construction Grammar meets Typology: From Theory to Teaching)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-08-31

Languages differ in how they conceptualize events. This project investigated the expression of motion and change of state, two domains central to the human experience, in English, German, Polish and Spanish. It analyzed corpus data and elicited narratives with the aim to (i) identify similarities and differences between these languages in the encoding of concepts such as directionality, manner, goal, result, etc., (ii) detect the difficulties bilinguals encounter when speaking about motion and change of state in their L2, and (iii) implement the findings in the field of foreign language pedagogy. Therefore, the realization of the research objectives involved three stages, that is, data collection, data analysis, and pedagogical application.
The project was carried out from September 2016 to August 2018 in the University of Copenhagen (Department of English, Germanic, and Romance Studies), and mentored by Assoc. Prof. Johan Pedersen.
Data collection. Data collection included linguistic corpus and elicited narratives. The elicitation task was performed by both native speakers and late bilinguals (a total of 50 participants).
Publications. A book chapter (Lewandowski 2018 in Gómez González & Mackenzie) and three peer-reviewed journal papers (Lewandowski 2018, Language Sciences 66; Lewandowski 2018, Catalan Journal of Linguistics 17; Lewandowski & Ozcaliskan 2018, Journal of Pragmatics 128) have been published. One paper has been resubmitted to Linguistics, two papers are being revised and will be resubmitted by the end of November 2018 to Second Language Research and Studies in Language, respectively. Two other papers are at advanced preparation stages, to be submitted in early 2019, and four other papers are expected to be submitted by mid/end of 2019.
Dissemination: The workshop ‘Constructions: Theoretical, Typological, and Applied Perspectives’ was organized (University of Copenhagen, June 8th, 2018) by Assoc. Prof. Johan Pedersen and Dr. Wojciech Lewandowski. Participants were recognized scholars from Denmark, Germany, Spain, and Sweden. The event was open to the public. The dissemination and discussion of the findings has also been taking place in community outreach (e.g. a training event for L2 teachers in the Instituto Cervantes of Cracow, Poland, May 25th, 2018) and over 14 academic events all over the world (e.g. Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Sweden, USA, etc.). All publications have regularly been uploaded online (
Training and teaching. Apart from research training received throughout the project, also several teaching collaborations in the Spanish Language and Culture Programme of the Department of English, Germanic, and Romance Studies took place.
Linguistic typology. Expression of motion and change-of-state shows systematic variability but is also constrained by a set of universal concepts such as path/result and manner. Languages such as Spanish encode path/result in the main verb and manner in an optional element outside the main verb (e.g. Juan entró en la habitación corriendo ‘John entered the room running’, El perro destrozó el zapato a mordiscos ‘The dog destroyed the shoe by biting it’). Other languages such as English, German, and Polish encode manner in the main verb and path/result in an element adjacent to the verb (e.g. John ran into the room, The dog chewed up the shoe). However, even though languages typically prefer one type of encoding over the other, languages belonging to the same typological group also exhibit variation, especially with respect to the extent with which they express path/result and manner. For example, speakers of Polish provide less fine-grained manner distinctions in the main verb than speakers of English and German, but they are more prone to specify manner further outside the verb. One of the factors underlying this intra-typological contrast is that directional/resultative elements in Slavic (bound prefixes) show more restricted compatibility with manner verbs than directional/resultative elements in Germanic (unbound particles). Interestingly enough, languages also show intra-linguistic differences. For example, when rendering motion events from a caused-motion perspective (e.g. John pushed the box into the room) as opposed to a self-motion perspective (e.g. John came into the room) speakers of all four languages show greater preference for manner encoding in the main verb, independently of their typological affiliation. Therefore, the dimensions of variation found in this project point to the need to focus on more specific constructional properties of motion events such as e.g. morpho-phonological status of directional/resultative elements, presence vs. absence of an external cause, etc. instead of typologizing languages as a whole. This shift in paradigm can result in more robust generalizations when dealing with variation patterns in the encoding of motion and change-of-state events.
Second language acquisition.
Bilingual speakers who speak a second language that belongs to a different language type (e.g. English/German/Polish vs. Spanish) show non-target-like patterns when speaking their second language. The same is true for speakers speaking a second language that belongs to the same type but has a more complex system of event encoding (e.g. manner expression in Polish vs. German). Therefore, not only the typological affiliation but also the relative complexity of the first vs. second language systems has an effect on second language learning. Two persisting problems are the syntactic arrangement of manner and path/result (in the main verb vs. outside the main verb), and the extent to which manner and path/result are rendered in a second language. The learning difficulties found in this research project point to the need to direct teachers’ attention to the domain of inter- and intra-typological differences in the encoding of events such as motion and change-of-state, two domains that are typically not covered in second language manuals and grammar books. Apart from mastering the lexical means for manner, path/result encoding, second language users must learn how to combine these elements syntactically and which aspects of an event are typically encoded in the target language. Therefore, it is important that teaching materials explicitly focus on morpho-syntactic motion and change-of-state constructions as a whole. Dr. Lewandowski is currently working on pedagogical applications of his research findings.
Academic impact of the project should become visible from 2019 on. Significance in the field can be seen through (i) the international scientific network created by Dr. Wojciech Lewandowski throughout the project, which resulted in collaborations with recognized scholars from Europe and the USA; (ii) the fast-growing interest in typological approaches to bilingualism and second language acquisition (see e.g. Cadierno, 2017, for a recent review).
Beyond academia, the project is expected to contribute to innovative L2 teaching methods. The research findings have been communicated and discussed with foreign language teachers (see above). Moreover, Dr. Wojciech Lewandowski gave an interview in which he explained some of the main objectives of his project in a way understandable to a broader public (