Workshop on Multiword Units in Multilingual Speakers

7th-8th June 2021

The goal of the workshop is to bring together researchers working on questions of learning, processing and use of different types of multiword units by multilingual individuals, including bilingual first language acquirers (2L1), child and adult second language learners (L2), heritage speakers and attriters.

The notion multiword unit (for a terminological discussion see Wray 1998) is a cover term for different kinds of word combinations, in which two or more words jointly refer to a single conventionalized concept:

  • compounds (DE Badezimmer, ENG bathroom, FR salle de bain, RU vannaja komnata)
  • lexicalized and grammaticalized phrases with no internal structural variation (DE anhand von ‘by means of’, ENG by and large, FR au fur et à mesure ‘progressively’)
  • collocations, transparent, but not fully predictable combinations of words that co-occur probabilistically (DE schwer/ernsthaft krank, ENG to fulfil a wish/request/ promise, FR entraîner des conséquences ‘to lead to consequences’)
  • pragmatic routines (DE Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, ENG How are you?, FR de rien ‘you’re welcome’, RU ne za čto ‘for nothing’)
  • phraseological units, usually containing elements with a metaphorical sense (ENG to kick the bucket, FR tomber dans les pommes ‘to faint’ (lit. ‘to fall into the apples’))

The importance of multiword units in native speakers’ acquisition and communication is uncontroversial (Sinclair 1991, Lieven et al. 1997, De Cock et al. 1998). Despite a long tradition of studying phrasal calques in contact linguistics, which has slowly turned towards a more cognitively oriented perspective (see Backus et al. 2019), and a large body of constantly growing research on multiword units in L2 learners (recent reviews in Erman et al. 2016, Gablasova et al. 2017) and heritage speakers (Rakhilina et al. 2016, Kopotev et al. 2020), we still have few answers to the fundamental questions of how multiword units are learned, processed and used by multilingual speakers compared to monolingual speakers.    
Starting from learning, Arnon & Christiansen (2017) argue that in comparison to L1 children, adult L2 learners are less likely to extract multiword units from input and to analyze grammatical information contained in them. The questions whether it equally holds for child L2 learners, heritage speakers, instructed and naturalistic L2 learners, and which role their L1 plays need further research.   
From a psycholinguistic perspective, Kessler & Beck (accepted) have found evidence that potentially different acquisition mechanisms in L1 and L2 might be mirrored in different processing mechanisms: L1 children tend to perceive a multiword unit as whole, whereas L2 adults perceive its parts separately. However, for both learner groups increased exposure to multiword units seems to result in their higher entrenchment in the memory (Arnon & Clark 2011, Siyanova-Chanturia et al. 2011) reflected in a higher processing speed. Apart from frequency, the processing of a multiword unit in L1 speakers seems to be affected by its type and associated properties (familiarity and decomposability for idioms, predictability and semantic association for compounds, mutual information for collocations) (e.g., Carrol & Conklin 2020). How these features of multiword units affect their processing in multilingual speakers remains an important issue for future research.

As for the use of multiword units, there is no consensus on whether proficient L2 speakers are indistinguishable from native speakers with regard to the quantity and the type of multiword units (see Ellis et al. 2015). L2 speakers have been shown to overuse some types of multiword units and underuse others (e.g., De Cock et al. 1998, Durrant & Schmitt 2009) but we do not know exactly why. Which distributional and linguistic properties of multiword units guide their production in the L2? How does the L1 influence the multiword units in L2 (Treffers-Daller 2012) and vice versa (Dogruöz & Backus 2009)? What role do the individual characteristics of the speaker such as language proficiency, language aptitude, motivation, sociocultural integration (Dörnyei et al. 2004) play? These are questions waiting for answers.  In this workshop, we aim to approach the issues outlined above from different perspectives.

Plenary Speakers

Albert Backus
Department of Culture Studies, Tilburg University

Eva Smolka
Insitute of Psychology, University of Innsbruck

Jeanine Treffers-Daller
Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics, University of Reading


For registration, please send an email with the subject 'Registration' to marlene.wesselspam prevention@student.uni-tuebingen.de by the June 4th.

Conference Chairs

Inga Hennecke
Romance Department, Tübingen

Ruth Kessler
SFB 833 Project B9/Department of Developmental Psychology, Tübingen

Tatiana Perevozchikova
Slavic Department, Tübingen

Evelyn Wiesinger
Romance Department, Tübingen