Investigating the lexico-grammatical resources of a non-native user of English: The case of can and could in email requests

Christopher J. Hall, Jack Joyce, Chris Robson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
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Individual users of English as a first or second language are assumed to possess or aspire to a monolithic grammar, an internally consistent set of rules which represents the idealized norms or conventions of native speakers. This position reflects a deficit view of L2 learning and usage, and is at odds with usage-based approaches to language development and research findings on idiolectal variation. This study problematizes the assumption of monolithic ontologies of grammar for TESOL by exploring a fragment of genre-specific lexico-grammatical knowledge (the can you/could you V construction alternation in requests) in a single non-native user of English, post-instruction. A corpus sample of the individual's output was compared with the input he was exposed to and broader norms for the genre. The analysis confirms findings in usage-based linguistics which demonstrate that an individual's lexico-grammatical knowledge constitutes an inventory of constructions shaped in large part by distributional patterns in the input. But it also provides evidence for idiosyncratic preferences resulting from exemplar-based inertia in production, suggesting that input is not the sole factor. Results are discussed in the context of a "plurilithic" ontology of grammar and the challenges this represents for pedagogy and teacher development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-59
Number of pages25
JournalApplied Linguistics Review
Issue number1
Early online date29 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Mar 2017


  • English as a Lingua Franca (ELF)
  • idiolect
  • plurilithic Englishes
  • second language acquisition (SLA)
  • usage-based linguistics


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