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Interlanguage prototypes in L2 learning: Evidence from German

Carlee Arnett
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The theory of Cognitive Grammar (CG) can be used to account for a number of syntactic structures in a variety of languages in a way that is useful to L2 students (Clancy & Janda, 2002 for Russian; Achard, 2004 for French, Achard & Niemeyer, 2004; Cadierno, 2004 for Danish, Lam, 2005 for Spanish; Masuda, 2005 for Japanese; Zyzik, 2006 for Spanish). Cognitive Grammar is a usage-based theory that assumes that grammatical structure is almost entirely present at the clausal level. Furthermore, CG assumes that speakers extract the “rules” of a language from the linguistic data they hear; there are no underlying structures or derivations. CG is concerned with providing a representation of language as it is produced and understood as well as the dynamics of this interaction. The usage-based character of CG makes it ideally suited for understanding the language produced by second language learners as well as a rubric for students’ knowledge about grammar.

Cognitive Grammar is not a theory of second language acquisition; it is a the-ory that can describe the properties of language as a system. Like cognitive and so-ciocultural theories of second language acquisition, it rejects the Saussure-an/Chomskyan model of language as an abstract, autonomous system. Cognitive Grammar assumes that language structures vary based on context and the speaker (Ellis, 1998; MacWhinney, 1997; Tomasello, 2003). Thus the theory is equipped to handle an analysis of dialectal variation or the variation in grammar by an L2 speak-er. In this paper, I use a CG approach to analyze the interlanguage of L2 students’ in an oral narrative task designed to elicit accusative and dative case.