Volume 5, Issue 1
  • ISSN 2215-1478
  • E-ISSN: 2215-1486
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes



Language learners are highly sensitive to statistical patterns in the input. When a target language provides the option to include or omit a grammatical form, learners have been shown to make decisions quite similar to native speakers. For example, learners opt to include or omit the complementizer (as in () ). This phenomenon has been explained in terms of a universal suite of cognitive mechanisms which support native and learner performance alike. Both learners and native speakers choose to include the complementizer when they are producing more complex or unexpected structures. The present study attempts to generalize these findings to another domain of “optional” grammatical markers, namely, relativizers (as in () ). I analyze all instances of optional relativizer use in a corpus of spontaneous learner speech produced by Spanish and German learners of English. Both of these languages have obligatory relativizers. A two-step generalized additive regression modeling technique (MuPDAR) that predicts learner choices based on native-speaker choices demonstrates that native speakers use greater shares of the relativizer in complex and disfluent environments, while learners show the exact opposite tendency: they prefer to drop the relativizer in complex and disfluent environments. These findings are discussed based on differences between complementizers and relativizers, and in terms of the limited universality of optional grammatical marking in learner speech.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Aarts, B.
    (2011) Oxford Modern English Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  2. Aijmer, K.
    (2013) “Well I’m not sure I think… The use of well by non-native speakers”. In G. Gilquin & S. De Cock (Eds.), Errors and Disfluencies in Spoken Corpora. Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 93–116. 10.1075/bct.52.04aij
    https://doi.org/10.1075/bct.52.04aij [Google Scholar]
  3. Batchelor, R. E. , & Ángel San José, M.
    (2010) A Reference Grammar of Spanish. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511845604
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511845604 [Google Scholar]
  4. Biber, D. , & Reppen, R.
    (1998) “Comparing native and learner perspectives on English grammar: A study of complement clauses”. In S. Granger (Ed.), Learner English on Computer. London: Longman, 145–158.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. Bock, J. K.
    (1986) “Syntactic persistence in language production”. Cognitive Psychology18, 355–357. 10.1016/0010‑0285(86)90004‑6
    https://doi.org/10.1016/0010-0285(86)90004-6 [Google Scholar]
  6. Clark, H. H.
    (2004) “Pragmatics of language performance”. In L. R. Horn & G. Ward (Eds.), The Handbook of Pragmatics. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 365–382.
    [Google Scholar]
  7. Clark, H. H. & Fox Tree, J. E.
    (2002) “Using ‘uh’ and ‘um’ in spontaneous speaking”. Cognition84, 73–111. 10.1016/S0010‑0277(02)00017‑3
    https://doi.org/10.1016/S0010-0277(02)00017-3 [Google Scholar]
  8. D’Arcy, A. , & Tagliamonte, S. A.
    (2010) “Prestige, accommodation, and the legacy of relative ‘who’”. Language in Society39, 383–410. 10.1017/S0047404510000205
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0047404510000205 [Google Scholar]
  9. De Cock, S.
    (2004) “Preferred sequences of words in NS and NNS speech”. Belgian Journal of English Language and Literatures (BELL)2, 225–246.
    [Google Scholar]
  10. Deshors, S. C. , & Gries, S. Th.
    (2016) “Profiling verb complementation constructions across New Englishes: A two-step random forests analysis of ing vs. to complements. International Journal of Corpus Lingusitics21, 192–218. 10.1075/ijcl.21.2.03des
    https://doi.org/10.1075/ijcl.21.2.03des [Google Scholar]
  11. Dijkstra, T. , & van Heuven, W. J. B.
    (2002) “The Architecture of the Bilingual Word Recognition System: From Identification to Decision”. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition5, 175–197. 10.1017/S1366728902003012
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728902003012 [Google Scholar]
  12. Dodd, B. , Eckhard-Black, C. , Klapper, J. , & Whittle, R.
    (2003) Modern German Grammar: A Practical Guide, Second Edition. New York: Routledge.
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Durham, M.
    (2011) “I think (that) something’s missing: Complementizer deletion in non-native emails”. Studies in Second Lanuage Learning and Teaching1, 421–445. 10.14746/ssllt.2011.1.3.6
    https://doi.org/10.14746/ssllt.2011.1.3.6 [Google Scholar]
  14. Ellis, N. C.
    (2008) “Usage-based and form-focused SLA: The implicit and explicit learning of constructions”. In A. Tyler , K. Yiyoung & M. Takada (Eds.), Language in the Context of Use: Cognitive and Discourse Approaches to Language and Language Learning. Amsterdam: Mouton de Gruyter, 93–121.
    [Google Scholar]
  15. Ellis, N. C. , & Sagarra, N.
    (2011) “Learned attention in adult language acquisition: A replication and generalization study and meta-analysis”. Studies in Second Language Acquisition33, 589–624. 10.1017/S0272263111000325
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0272263111000325 [Google Scholar]
  16. Ferreira, V. S. , & Dell, G. S.
    (2000) “Effect of ambiguity and lexical availability on syntactic and lexical production”. Cognitive Psychology40, 296–340. 10.1006/cogp.1999.0730
    https://doi.org/10.1006/cogp.1999.0730 [Google Scholar]
  17. Flanigan, B. O. , & Inal, E.
    (1996) “Object relative pronoun use in native and non-native English: A variable rule analysis”. Language Variation and Change8, 203–226. 10.1017/S0954394500001149
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954394500001149 [Google Scholar]
  18. Fox, B. A. , & Thompson, S. A.
    (2007) “Relative clauses in English conversation: Relativizers, frequency, and the notion of construction”. Studies in Language31, 293–326. 10.1075/sl.31.2.03fox
    https://doi.org/10.1075/sl.31.2.03fox [Google Scholar]
  19. Gass, S. M.
    (1979) “Language transfer and universal grammatical relations”. Language Learning29, 327–343. 10.1111/j.1467‑1770.1979.tb01073.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-1770.1979.tb01073.x [Google Scholar]
  20. (2003) “Input and interaction”. In C. Doughty & M. H. Long (Eds.), Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Blackwell, 224–255. 10.1002/9780470756492.ch9
    https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470756492.ch9 [Google Scholar]
  21. Gilquin, G. , De Cock, S. , & Granger, S.
    (2010) The Louvain International Database of Spoken English Interlanguage. CD-ROM and Handbook. Louvain: Presses Universitaires de Louvain.
    [Google Scholar]
  22. Granger, S. , Dagneaux, E. , & Meunier, F.
    (2002) International Corpus of Learner English, Louvain: UCL.
    [Google Scholar]
  23. Gries, S. Th. , & Adelman, A. S.
    (2014) “Subject realization in Japanese conversation by native and non-native speakers: Exemplifying a new paradigm for learner corpus research”. InYearbook of Corpus Linguistics and Pragmatics 2014: New Empirical and Theoretical Paradigms. Cham: Springer, 35–54.
    [Google Scholar]
  24. Gries, S. Th. , & Bernaisch, T.
    (2016) “Exploring epicentres empirically: Focus on South Asian Englishes”. English World-Wide37, 1–25. 10.1075/eww.37.1.01gri
    https://doi.org/10.1075/eww.37.1.01gri [Google Scholar]
  25. Gries, S. Th. , & Deshors, S. C.
    (2014) “Using regressions to explore deviations between corpus data and a standard/target: two suggestions”. Corpora9, 109–136. 10.3366/cor.2014.0053
    https://doi.org/10.3366/cor.2014.0053 [Google Scholar]
  26. Hartsuiker, R. J. , & Notebaert, L.
    (2009) “Lexical access problems lead to disfluencies in speech”. Experimental Psychology57, 169–177. 10.1027/1618‑3169/a000021
    https://doi.org/10.1027/1618-3169/a000021 [Google Scholar]
  27. Heller, B. , Bernaisch, T. , & Gries, S. Th.
    (2017) “Empirical perspectives on two potential epicenters: The genitive alternation in Asian Englishes”. ICAME Journal41, 111–144. 10.1515/icame‑2017‑0005
    https://doi.org/10.1515/icame-2017-0005 [Google Scholar]
  28. Hinrichs, L. , Szmrecsanyi, B. , & Bohmann, A.
    (2015) “ Which-hunting and the Standard English relative clause”. Language91, 806–836. 10.1353/lan.2015.0062
    https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.2015.0062 [Google Scholar]
  29. Ioup, G. , & Kruse, A.
    (1977) “Interference versus structural complexity as a predictor of second language relative clause acquisition”. In. C. Henning (Ed.), Proceedings of the Second Language Research Forum. Los Angeles: University of California at Los Angeles, 22–35.
    [Google Scholar]
  30. Jaeger, T. F.
    (2005) “Optional that indicates production difficulty: Evidence from disfluencies”. Proceedings of DiSS ’05: The Disfluency in Spontaneous Speech Workshop. France: Aix-en-Provence, 103–109.
    [Google Scholar]
  31. (2010) “Redundancy and reduction: Speakers manage syntactic information density”. Cognitive Psychology61, 23–62. 10.1016/j.cogpsych.2010.02.002
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogpsych.2010.02.002 [Google Scholar]
  32. Jaeger, T. F. & Snider, N. E.
    (2013) Alignment as a consequence of expectation adaptation: syntactic priming is affected by the prime’s prediction error given both prior and recent experience. Cognition127, 57–83. 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.10.013
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2012.10.013 [Google Scholar]
  33. Jaeger, T. F. , & Wasow, T.
    (2005) “Processing as a source of accessibility effects on variation”. In R. T. Hart & Y. Kim (Eds.), Proceedings of the 31st Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistic Society. Ann Arbor: Sheridan, 169–180.
    [Google Scholar]
  34. Keenan, E. & Comrie, B.
    (1977) “Noun phrase accessibility and universal grammar”. Linguistic Inquiry8, 63–99.
    [Google Scholar]
  35. Kroll, J. F. , Dussias, P. E. , Bogulski, C. A. , & Valdes-Kroff, J.
    (2012) Juggling two languages in one mind: What bilinguals tell us about language processing and its consequences for cognition. In B. Ross (Ed.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, Volume56. San Diego: Academic Press, 229–262. 10.1016/B978‑0‑12‑394393‑4.00007‑8
    https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-394393-4.00007-8 [Google Scholar]
  36. Lambrecht, K.
    (1988) “’There was a farmer had a dog’: Syntactic Amalgams revisited”. In S. Axmaker , A. Jaisser & H. Singmaster (Eds.), Proceedings of the Fourteenth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. Berkeley: UC Berkeley, 319–339.
    [Google Scholar]
  37. Lee, O.
    (2013) “Experience and the processing of relative clauses by Korean learners of English”. In J. C. Amaro , T. Judy & D. Pascual y Cabo (Eds.), Proceedings of the 12th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference. Somerville: Cascadilla Proceedings Project, 100–105.
    [Google Scholar]
  38. Levy, R. , & Jaeger, T. F.
    (2007) “Speakers optimize information density through syntactic reduction”. In B. Schlökopf , J. Platt & T. Hoffman (Eds.), Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems. Cambridge: MIT Press, 849–856.
    [Google Scholar]
  39. MacDonald, M. C.
    (2013) “How language production shapes language form and comprehension”. Frontiers in Psychology4, 1–16. 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00226
    https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00226 [Google Scholar]
  40. McDonough, K.
    (2006) “Interaction and syntactic priming: English L2 speakers’ production of dative constructions”. Studies in Second Language Acquisition28, 179–207. 10.1017/S0272263106060098
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0272263106060098 [Google Scholar]
  41. MacWhinney, B.
    (2011) The logic of the Unified Model. In S. Gass & A. Mackey (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. New York: Routledge, 211–227.
    [Google Scholar]
  42. Myhill, J.
    (1982) “The acquisition of complex sentences: A cross-linguistic study”. Studies in Second Language Acquisition4, 193–200. 10.1017/S0272263100004423
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0272263100004423 [Google Scholar]
  43. Olofsson, A.
    (2009) “The gift of the gap: A study of Dutch and Swedish learners’ use of the English zero relativizer”. English Studies90, 333–344. 10.1080/00138380902796722
    https://doi.org/10.1080/00138380902796722 [Google Scholar]
  44. Pampel, F. C.
    (2000) Logistic Regression: A Primer. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications. 10.4135/9781412984805
    https://doi.org/10.4135/9781412984805 [Google Scholar]
  45. Race, D. S. , & MacDonald, M. C.
    (2003) “The use of ‘that’ in the production and comprehension of object relative clauses”. In R. Alterman & D. Kirsh (Eds.), Proceedings of the 25th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. Boston: Cognitive Science Society, 946–951.
    [Google Scholar]
  46. Rohdenburg, G.
    (1996) “Syntactic complexity and increased grammatical explicitness in English”. Cognitive Linguistics7, 149–182. 10.1515/cogl.1996.7.2.149
    https://doi.org/10.1515/cogl.1996.7.2.149 [Google Scholar]
  47. Ross, J. R.
    (1967) Constraints on Variables in Syntax. Ph.D Dissertation, MIT.
  48. Ryan, J.
    (2015) “Overexplicit referent tracking in L2 English: Strategy, avoidance, or myth?Language Learning65, 824–859. 10.1111/lang.12139
    https://doi.org/10.1111/lang.12139 [Google Scholar]
  49. Schachter, J.
    (1974) “An error in error analysis”. Language Learning24, 205–214. 10.1111/j.1467‑1770.1974.tb00502.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-1770.1974.tb00502.x [Google Scholar]
  50. Simas, A. B. , Barreto-Souza, W. , & Rocha, A. V.
    (2010) “Improved Estimators for a General Class of Beta Regression Models”. Computational Statistics and Data Analysis54, 348–366. 10.1016/j.csda.2009.08.017
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.csda.2009.08.017 [Google Scholar]
  51. Szmrecsanyi, B.
    (2006) Morphosyntactic Persistence in Spoken English. A Corpus Study at the Intersection of Variationist Sociolinguistics, Psycholinguistics, and Discourse Analysis. New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 10.1515/9783110197808
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110197808 [Google Scholar]
  52. Tarallo, F. , & Myhill, J.
    (2006) “Interference and natural language processing in second language acquisition”. Language Learning33, 55–76. 10.1111/j.1467‑1770.1983.tb00986.x
    https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-1770.1983.tb00986.x [Google Scholar]
  53. Temperley, D.
    (2003) “Ambiguity avoidance in English relative clauses”. Language79, 464–484. 10.1353/lan.2003.0189
    https://doi.org/10.1353/lan.2003.0189 [Google Scholar]
  54. Tottie, G.
    (1995) “The man Ø I love: An analysis of factors favouring zero relatives in written British and American English”. In G. Melchers & B. Warren (Eds.), Studies in Anglistics. Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, 201–215.
    [Google Scholar]
  55. Wasow, T. , Jaeger, T. F. , & Orr, D. M.
    (2011) “Lexical variation in relativizer frequency”. In H. J. Simon & H. Wiese (Eds.), Expecting the Unexpected: Exceptions in Grammar. New York: de Gruyter, 175–196. 10.1515/9783110219098.175
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110219098.175 [Google Scholar]
  56. Wood, S.
    (2006) Generalized Additive Models: An Introduction with R. New York: Chapman & Hall CRC. 10.1201/9781420010404
    https://doi.org/10.1201/9781420010404 [Google Scholar]
  57. Wulff, S.
    (2016) “A friendly conspiracy of input, L1, and processing demands: that – variation in German and Spanish learner language”. In L. Ortega , A. E. Tyler , H. I. Park & M. Uno (Eds.), The Usage-based Study of Language Learning and Multilingualism ( Proceedings of GURT 2014 ). Georgetown: Georgetown University Press, 115–136.
    [Google Scholar]
  58. Wulff, S. , Gries, S. Th. & Lester, N. A.
    in press. “Optional that in complementation by German and Spanish learners: Where and how German and Spanish learners differ from native speakers”. In A. Tyler & C. Moder Eds. What Does Applied Cognitive Linguistics Look Like? Answers from the L2 Classroom and SLA Studies. Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.
    [Google Scholar]
  59. Wulff, S. , Lester, N. , & Martinez-Garcia, M. T.
    (2014) “That-variation in German and Spanish L2 English”. Language and Cognition6, 271–299. 10.1017/langcog.2014.5
    https://doi.org/10.1017/langcog.2014.5 [Google Scholar]

Data & Media loading...

  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): disfluency; L2 speech; MuPDAR; optional grammatical markers; relativizers
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error