Use of Formulaic Sequences in Low to Intermediate Tunisian EFL Learners

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Formulaic Sequences in Tunisian low-intermediate
EFL Learners’ Oral Production
2012
Emna Bou Ayed and Chokri Smaoui
University of Arts and Humanities of Sfax, Tunisia. Abstract
The aim of this study is to explore low- intermediate Tunisian EFL learners’ use of formulaic sequences (henceforth FSs), i.e. conventionalized and memorized combinations of lexis and/or grammar, here with a focus on oral production of English as a foreign language. The primary material consists of the informants’ oral performances in three different elicitation tasks, i.e. the role-play, the free talk and the picture story telling. The results of the study show that low-intermediate Tunisian EFL learners use the idiom principle (cf. Sinclair 1991), involving a single choice of retrieving a memorized sequence. The type of task has an effect on the informants’ oral production and on the number and types of formulaic sequences used. It is suggested that the topic, the speaking conditions and the instruction that learners received could be considered as factors influencing the use of FSs. There are many instances of deficient FSs which bear traces of formulaicity from the learners’ L1 and L2. Results show that there is indeed a significant correspondence between knowledge and use of formulaic language and oral proficiency. The more the learner uses formulaic language, the more the oral performance is fluent and accurate and the higher is the grade. 1. Introduction

1.1. Theoretical background
In the last three decades, there has been much interest within the second language teaching community in the phenomenon of formulaic language. Researchers have increasingly focused on actual performance, i.e., language production, and the large store of and access to “formulaic sequence” (hereafter FS), i.e. conventionalized and memorized combinations of lexis and/or grammar, facilitating linguistic decoding and encoding and hence promoting fluency and idiomaticity (Pawley and Syder 1983, Sinclair 1991, Erman and Warren 2000, Wray 2002). In the present study, FSs in Tunisian low-intermediate learners’ use of English as a foreign language (EFL) are analyzed in order to explore how learners deal with them. This is investigated by examining learners’ oral production in the target language as demonstrated in three types of tasks, i.e., the role-play, the free talk, and the picture story telling.

All approaches to the study of formulaic language stress the importance of their functional aspect, i.e., the fact that certain language sequences have conventionalized meanings which are used in certain predictable situations. Pragmatic approaches to the study of formulaic language therefore provide a very important basis for their identification and categorization (Coulmas 1981). However, this perspective needs to be complemented by psycholinguistic approaches, given that all studies invoke processing terminology. Psycholinguistic approaches are also interested in the acquisition of formulaic language. The present study falls within the theoretical framework of psycholinguistics, which includes both a linguistic and a learning perspective, and which sees learning, knowledge and production as closely related. This approach, however, faces considerable methodological difficulties. The definition and identification of FSs are considered the most challenging tasks due to the elusive character of formulaic language. Indeed, what makes identifying FSs even more difficult is the assessment of the extent to which a sequence is conventionalized. Language is assumed to be either holistically produced, that is memorized and retrieved whole from memory or at least easily accessed, or analytically produced, that is assembled through the use of grammatical rules and lexis. However, the relative...
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