Motion events in English as a fourth language: a linguistic analysis of a selected episode in multilingual learner narratives


Abstract - This article reports on a study that investigated the description of motion events in narrative texts written by 13-14 and 17-18 year olds learning English as a fourth language at schools where multilingualism is a key objective. The focus was placed on the learners’ references to the animate beings featured in the story and their use of verbs and satellites in order to describe the movement situations elicited from the image selected for analysis from the wordless picture story the teenagers had to retell in words. The main objective of the study was to draw a comparison between the two age or proficiency-level groups within a functional-pragmatic framework. The learners’ narrative and linguistic choices in their motion-event constructions were analysed, with a number of comments made on the basis of the participants’ other languages. Findings revealed preferences and tendencies that were partly similar and partly different in the two school grades. The predominant figures turned out to be the same at both proficiency levels, with the use of superordinates to fill lexical gaps identified as one of the main communication strategies and the more frequent use of personal pronouns characterising the higher-level texts. With the exception of the motion undertaken by one figure, the motion events depicted were described with similar verbs, and a non-target like use of the satellites after and behind was noticed in both age groups. The article is argued to constitute the basis for further investigations into motion events in multilingual learners’ texts.

Riassunto - L’articolo costituisce uno studio sulla descrizione degli eventi di moto in testi narrativi prodotti da giovani di 13-14 e 17-18 anni apprendenti di inglese come quarta lingua. Il lavoro si concentra sui riferimenti degli alunni alle entità in movimento con funzione di Figura e sul loro uso di verbi e Satelliti indicanti i percorsi delle entità negli estratti selezionati per l’analisi (Talmy 1985). L’obiettivo principale dello studio consiste nell’effettuare, attraverso un approccio di tipo funzionale-pragmatico, un confronto fra i testi prodotti dai due gruppi di alunni dei due livelli scolastici. Vengono analizzate le scelte narrative e linguistiche degli apprendenti nella codificazione degli eventi di moto, considerando anche caratteristiche delle altre lingue parlate dagli alunni. L’analisi rivela preferenze e tendenze in parte uguali e in parte diverse nei testi prodotti nei due gruppi. Dall’analisi emerge che: (1) i due gruppi esprimono una preferenza per le stesse figure; (2) una delle principali strategie di comunicazione è l’uso di iperonimi per colmare lacune lessicali; (3) l’impiego di pronomi personali si rivela più copioso nei testi prodotti dagli alunni di 17-18 anni; (4) gli eventi di moto vengono descritti dai due gruppi con gli stessi verbi, ad eccezione di una figura; (5) in entrambi i livelli si utilizzano i satelliti after e behind in maniera non attinente alla lingua di arrivo. Il contributo si presenta come base per ulteriori indagini sulla lessicalizzazione di eventi di moto in testi scritti da apprendenti di inglese in contesti plurilingui.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v12p127

Keywords: Motion verbs; Prepositions; Adverbs; Frog story; Fourth language acquisition


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