Grammar "bores the crap out of me!": A mixed-method study on the XTYOFZ construction and its usage by ESL and ENL speakers

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Engelska institutionen

Abstract: Different from Generative Grammar which sees grammar as a formal system of how words are put together to form sentences, Construction Grammar suggests that grammar is more than just rules and surface forms; instead, grammar includes many form-and-meaning pairings which are called constructions. For years, Construction Grammarians have been investigating constructions with various approaches, including corpus-linguistics, pedagogical, second language acquisition and so on, yet there is still room for exploration. The present paper aims to further investigate the [V the Ntaboo-word out of]-construction (Hoeksema & Napoli, 2008; Haïk, 2012; Perek, 2016; Hoffmann, 2020) (e.g., I kick the hell out of him.) and propose a new umbrella construction, “X the Y out of Z” (XTYOFZ) construction, for it. Another aim is to examine the usage and comprehension of the XTYOFZ construction by English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as Native Language (ENL) speakers. The usage context, syntactic and semantic characteristics of the XTYOFZ construction were examined through corpus linguistic methodology. Furthermore, processing and understanding of the construction by ESL and ENL speakers were tested via an online timed Lexical Decision Task as well as an online follow-up survey consisting of questions on English acquisition and usage, and a short comprehension task on the XTYOFZ construction. Corpus data shows that in general, the combination of non-motion action verbs (e.g., scare, beat) as X and taboo terms (e.g., shit, hell) as Y was the most common. Also, it was found that the construction occurs mostly in non-academic contexts such as websites and TV/movies. On the other hand, results from the Lexical Decision Task show that ESL speakers access constructional meaning slightly more slowly than ENL speakers. The follow-up survey also reflects that ESL speakers seem to have a harder time to produce and comprehend the construction compared to ENL speakers. By investigating the features of a relatively less-discussed construction and its usage by ESL speakers, this study hopes to increase the knowledge base of Construction Grammar and ESL construction comprehension and usage, particularly on the constructions that are mainly used in more casual settings.

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