Learning Idiomaticity : A Corpus-Based Study of Idiomatic Expressions in Learners' Written Production

Maria Wiktorsson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


The aim of this study is to investigate how Swedish learners of English (at different levels of proficiency) master idiomaticity in their target language. I argue that idiomaticity can be related to the storage and use of multi-word expressions that are preferred by native speakers. These multi-word units are referred to as prefabs in the present study. By manually identifying and subsequently classifying prefabs in essays written by three different subject groups, native speakers, Swedish university students and Swedish Upper Secondary School students, I have aimed at 1) comparing how the Swedish learners master idiomaticity compared to the native speakers and 2) investigating the progression of the degree of idiomaticity in the essays written by Swedish learners at different levels of advancement.The status of prefabs as units in language production is discussed and it is proposed that prefabs can fruitfully be viewed as constructions in the construction grammar framework. As a result of this, several of the possible characteristics of prefabs are accounted for, such as non-compositional meaning and syntactic variability. In addition, the status of multi-word items in language learning, both first and second, is discussed.It was found that the more advanced Swedish learners did not use fewer prefabs than the native speakers, but that they used prefabs of a slightly different type. For instance, it was found that the learners' prefabs were more often of a kind typically found in speech rather than in writing. It was concluded that the perception of these essays as less idiomatic could partly be attributed to the fact that the prefabs were perceived as belonging to a more informal register.In contrast to the more advanced learners, the less advanced learners did use fewer prefabs. They also, to an even greater extent than the more advanced learners, appeared to use prefabs from the wrong register. It was further found that the less advanced learners made use of transfer strategies from their L1 in that they produced some unidiomatic expressions that were verbatim translations of Swedish prefabs. They also made errors involving the production of English prefabs. Certain other prefabs, the forms of which were correct, were, however, not used appropriately, i.e. it appears that learners can err both when it comes to learning the form and the meaning or function of target language prefabs.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • English Studies
  • [unknown], [unknown], Supervisor, External person
Award date2003 Mar 29
Print ISBNs91-974023-4-6
Publication statusPublished - 2003

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2003-03-29
Time: 10:15
Place: Room 239 in Humanisthuset

External reviewer(s)

Name: Wray, Alison
Title: Dr.
Affiliation: [unknown]


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Languages and Literature


  • corpus linguistics
  • idiom principle
  • open choice principle
  • construction grammar
  • compositionality
  • conventionalisation
  • idiom
  • formulae
  • collocation
  • prefab
  • Swedish learners of English
  • L2
  • Idiomaticity
  • L1
  • English language and literature
  • Engelska (språk och litteratur)
  • Linguistics
  • Lingvistik


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