If-conditionals in ICLE and the BNC: a language teaching success story?

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    This paper aims to contribute to the methodological toolbox of “pedagogy-driven corpus-based research” (Gabrielatos, 2006), that is, research which is situated at the intersection of language description, pedagogical lexicogrammar, and pedagogical materials evaluation (e.g. Harwood, 2005; Hunston & Francis, 1998; Kennedy, 1992; Owen, 1993; Römer, 2004, 2005). The contribution of the present paper mainly lies in proposing a method of triangulating the corpus-based evaluation of lexicogrammatical information in EFL coursebooks, by way of examining a relevant corpus sample of learner written output. More precisely, Gabrielatos (2006) compared the information and examples on if-conditionals in eleven coursebooks for advanced EFL learners with a random sample of 781 if-conditionals from the written BNC (Aston & Burnard, 1998) – using BNCweb (see Hoffmann et al., 2008). The analysis revealed that the common-ground typology – i.e. the information presented in all the coursebooks examined – accounted for just over one-quarter (27.8%) of the if-conditionals in the BNC sample. More importantly, even if the information given in all the sample coursebooks were collated to produce an inclusive typology, it would account for less than three-quarters (72.5%) of the if-conditionals in the BNC sample. Even lower proportions were revealed when the sample of coursebooks included both intermediate and advance coursebooks (Gabrielatos, 2003). The observed under-representation of the variety of if-conditionals in the coursebooks mainly hinged on the following: •The coursebook typologies predominantly focused on conditionals with apodoses expressing degress of likelihood, ignoring or backgrounding conditionals with apodoses expressing deontic or volitional senses. Similalry, coursebooks ignored the type of conditionals termed “indirect” (Quirk et al., 1985), “speech act” (Sweetser, 1990), or “pragmatic” (Athanasiadou & Dirven, 1997) – e.g. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Hammond start forward. “But you promised ...” Spatz interrupted Hammond, his face hard. “I promised nothing, if you recall.” [GUG 121]. •Patterns presented as ‘exceptions’ or ‘special cases’ in the coursebooks proved to be too frequent to be accurately described as such. For example, the coursebooks present Past tense marking with past time reference in protases as a special case – stressing its epistemic interpretation. However, in the BNC sample, one-third of Past tense marking in protases expressed past time. •Modal marking in ‘rules’ and examples was predominantly by way of central and (less so) peripheral modals; lexical modal markers were ignored in both rules and examples. On the basis of the above results, it was hypothesised in the present study that learner written production – when compared to similar texts in the written BNC – would be characterised by the following: a)Under-representation of indirect conditionals. b)Among direct conditionals, an over-representation of conditionals with apodoses expressing degrees of likelihood, and a corresponding under-representation of other types. c)Lower proportion of Past tense marking with past time reference in protases. d)Smaller extent of modal marking in protases. e)Over-representation of central modals. The study aimed to compare the if-conditionals in the random sample from the written BNC with those in a random sample from ICLE (Granger et al., 2002). However, ICLE only contains argumentative essays, whereas the written BNC is richer in text types. For reasons of comparability, only the instances from academic texts, essays and editorials in the BNC sample were considered – resulting in a sample of 195 if-conditionals. Therefore, a random sample of 200 instances was drawn from ICLE – using CQPweb (Hardie, forthcoming). Each if-conditional was annotated for its type, using the typology developed in Gabrielatos (2010), as well as the modal marker and the type of modality in the protases and apodoses. Only hypotheses ‘b’, ‘c’ and, to some extent, ‘d’ were supported by the results – in the other two respects learner production in ICLE was comparable to that of the native speakers in the BNC. However, it would be premature to conclude that the explicit information in coursebooks has limited influence on learner production. ICLE contains the written production of learners having a variety of L1s, and coming from a variety of educational contexts, which can be expected to employ different pedagogical materials and/or instructional approaches. Therefore, the possibility cannot be discounted that the picture emerging from the present analysis may hide country-specific and/or L1-specific variation. References Athanasiadou, A. & R. Dirven (1997) Conditionality, hypotheticality, counterfactuality. In A. Athanasiadou & R. Dirven (eds.) On Conditionals Again (pp. 61–96). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Gabrielatos, C. (2003) Conditional sentences: ELT typology and corpus evidence. Paper given at 36th Annual BAAL Meeting, University of Leeds, UK, 4-6 September 2003. [http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/140/] Gabrielatos, C. (2006) Corpus-based evaluation of pedagogical materials: If-conditionals in ELT coursebooks and the BNC. 7th Teaching and Language Corpora Conference, Paris, France, 1-4 July 2006. [http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/882/] Gabrielatos, C. (2008). If-conditionals, modality, and Schrödinger’s cat. Paper presented at the RITL Research Group (Research in Theoretical Linguistics), Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University, 27 November 2008. [http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/39788/] Gabrielatos, C. (2010) A corpus-based examination of English if-conditionals through the lens of modality: Nature and types. PhD Thesis. Lancaster University, UK. Gabrielatos, C. & Torgersen, E. (2009). A corpus-based sociolinguistic analysis of indefinite article use in London English. ICAME 30, Lancaster, UK, 27-31 May 2009. [http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/26562/1/ICAME30-indefinite_article.pdf] Gabrielatos, C., Torgersen, E., Hoffmann, S. & Fox, S. (2010). A corpus-based sociolinguistic study of indefinite article forms in London English. Journal of English Linguistics, 38(4), 297-334. Granger, S., Dagneux, E. & Meunier, F. (2002) The International Corpus of Learner English. Version 1.1. Handbook and CD-ROM. Louvain-la-Neuve: Presses Universitaires de Louvain. Hardie, A. (forthcoming) CQPweb – compining power, flexibility and usability in a coprus analysis tool. Harwood, N. (2005) What do we want EAP teaching materials for? Journal of English for Academic Purposes 4(2), 149–161. Hoffmann, S., Evert, S., Smith, N., Lee, D. & Berglund-Prytz, Y. (2008) Corpus Linguistics with BNCweb - a practical guide. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. Hunston, S. & Francis, G. (1998) Verbs observed: A corpus-driven pedagogic grammar. Applied Linguistics 19(1): 45-72. Kennedy, G. (1992) Preferred ways of putting things with implications for language teaching. In J. Svartvik (ed.) Directions in Corpus Linguistics: Proceedings of the Nobel Symposium 82, Stockholm, 4-8 August 1991 (pp. 335-378). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Owen, C. (1993). Corpus-based grammar and the Heineken effect: Lexico-grammatical description for language learners. Applied Linguistics 14(2): 167-187. Quirk, R., S. Greenbaum, G. Leech & J. Svartvik (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London: Longman. Römer, U. (2004) Textbooks: A corpus-driven approach to modal auxiliaries and their didactics. In J. McH. Sinclair (ed.) How to Use Corpora in Language Teaching (pp. 185–199). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Römer, U. (2005) Progressives, Patterns, Pedagogy: A corpus-driven approach to progressive forms, functions, contexts and didactics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Sweetser, E.E. (1990) From Etymology to Pragmatics: Metaphorical and cultural aspects of semantic structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2011
    EventLearner Corpus Research 2011 - Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
    Duration: 15 Sept 201117 Sept 2011


    OtherLearner Corpus Research 2011


    • conditionals
    • learner language
    • ICLE
    • BNC


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