Development of the use of discourse markers across different fluency levels of CEFR: A learner corpus analysis

Lan-fen Huang, Yen-liang Lin and Tomáš Gráf

Abstract

Fluent L2 English speakers frequently use discourse markers (DMs) as a speech management strategy, but research has largely ignored how this develops across different proficiency levels and how it is related to immersive experiences. This study examines the developmental patterns of three DMs – well, you know and like – in the speech of learners at A2-C1 in CEFR with and without immersive experiences in target language environments. The fluency-rated LINDSEI corpus (173 learners) and a parallel native corpus (50 speakers) provided approximately 350,000 tokens and 3,395 instances of the analyzed DMs. Overall, DM frequency (especially with well and you know) among C1 speakers increases with rising fluency levels up to almost native-like levels. Immersive experience correlates positively with overall and individual DM frequency (except for like). As the skillful use of DMs results in more fluent speech production, the didactic implications for L2 instructors should be developed.

Keywords:
Publication history
Table of contents

Fluency is generally recognized as a multidimensional construct (Housen et al. 2012) and the literature abounds in ways of defining and operationalizing it. One of the most common findings is that, in order to achieve fluent performance, speakers deploy various strategies to buy time for planning subsequent utterances. One such strategy is the use of discourse markers (DMs) as compensatory fillers (Hedge 1993), a non-intrusive strategy, since DMs naturally and frequently occur in native spoken English (Carter and McCarthy 2006) and contribute to pragmatically effective communication (Polat 2011). Although previous research has shown that fluent speakers tend to use more and more varied DMs (e.g., Hasselgren 2002; Götz 2013; Crible 2017), few empirical studies have investigated the developmental patterns of DMs in learner corpora across fluency levels in an internationally-recognized system, namely the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR; Council of Europe 2001, 2018). The CEFR provides a comprehensive description of increasing language proficiency from A1 to C2 levels.

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