Watch your weight! A corpus-based study of end-weight constructions in the speech of native speakers and Swedish learners of English
Abstract: When we engage in conversation, it is necessary to order our speech so that others can understand us. To avoid potentially problematic internal elements, there is a tendency to place heavy clause constituents in sentence-final position. This is known as end-weight. This study investigates how spoken language clause constituent order functions for two weight-sensitive constructions - heavy noun phrase shift and dative alternation - in Swedish learner and native English speaker university students. Which factors determine the position of the constituents and whether there are differences between the native and learner speakers is also investigated. The data used is extracted from the Swedish component of the LINDSEI corpus and its native counterpart, LOCNEC. Chosen two- and three-placed verbs were located in the data to find weight-sensitive constructions and the results analysed quantitatively and qualitatively. The results show that end-weight shifting is noticeably resistant to syntactic factors, such as complexity and length, which have little influence on clause constituent ordering in both the native and the learner speakers. Semantic and pragmatic motivators are discussed as having potential influence on word order: hesitation markers can indicate disruptions in speech production and lexical bias can influence speakers’ choice of structure. The facilitation of language acquisition between similar languages can possibly provide an explanation for the lack of differences between the learner and the native data. The essay concludes that many factors can have potential influence over weight-sensitive constituent order.
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