An empirical study on word order in predicates: on syntax, processing and information in native and learner English


  • Javier Pérez-Guerra University of Vigo



word order, adjunct, complement, syntax, information structure, Interface Hypothesis


This study focuses on the linearisation of verbal complements (or arguments) and adjuncts (or modifiers) in learner advanced English. The analysis is based on minimal pairs of sequences of complements and adjuncts in predicates, as in He will investigate [the construction] [in a somewhat strange way which will lead to odd results] versus He will investigate [in a somewhat strange way which will lead to odd results] [the construction]. Constituent linearisation has been claimed to be potentially subject to lexical, syntactic, processing and informative determinants. This paper analyses the influence of the verbal heads and the principles ‘complements-first’, ‘end-weight’ and ‘given-new’ on the production of predicates containing two dependents. The study has two objectives: first, to determine in which areas the ordering of such constituents in English by non-native speakers is particularly influenced by their first language (Spanish); second, to assess the plausibility of the Interface Hypothesis in a pattern which affects the so-called internal and external interfaces. Results show that internal constraints such as the length of the dependents (end-weight) and the learner’s source language (i.e. compliance with complements-first) are strong predictors of ordering choices.


Download data is not yet available.


Birner, B., Ward, G. L. (2006). "Information structure". In B. Aarts and A. McMahon (Eds.), The handbook of English linguistics, 1, 291–317. Oxford: Blackwell.

Brown, G., Anderson, A., Shillcock, R., Yule, G. (1984). Teaching talk: strategies for production and assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Callies, M. (2006). "Why money can’t buy you anything in German: a functional-typological approach to the mapping of semantic roles to syntactic functions in SLA". In J. Arabski (Ed.), Cross-linguistic influences in the second language lexicon, 111–129. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Callies, M. (2008a). "Easy to understand but difficult to use? Raising constructions and information packaging in the advanced learner variety". In G. Gilquin, S. Papp and M. B. Díez-Bedmar (Eds.), Linking contrastive and learner corpus research, 66, 201-226. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Callies, M. (2008b). "Argument realization and information packaging in tough-movement constructions – a learner-corpus-based investigation". In D. Gabryś-Barker (Ed.), Morphosyntactic issues in Second Language Acquisition studies, 29-46. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Callies, M. (2009). Information highlighting in advanced learner English. The syntax-pragmatics interface in Second Language Acquisition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Callies, M., Paquot, M. (2015). “An interview with Yukio Tono”. International Journal of Learner Corpus Research, 1/1, 160-171.

Callies, M., Szczesniak, K. (2008). "Argument realization, information status and syntactic weight – a learnerâ€corpus study of the dative alternation". In P. Grommes and M. Walter (Eds.), Fortgeschrittene Lernervarietäten. Korpuslinguistik und Zweitspracherwerbsforschung, 165-187. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Carroll, M., Murcia-Serra, J. et al. (2000). “The relevance of information organization to Second Language Acquisition studies. The descriptive discourse of advanced adult learners of German”. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 22/3, 441-466.

Christiansen, M. H., Chater, N. (2016). Creating language. Integrating evolution, acquisition, and processing. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Clark, E. V. (1971). “On the acquisition of the meaning of before and after”. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 10/3, 266-275.

Clark, H. H., Clark, E. V. (1968). “Semantic distinctions and memory for complex sentences”. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 20/2, 129-138.

Corley, S., Crocker, M. W. (2000). "The modular statistical hypothesis: exploring lexical category ambiguity". In M. W. Crocker, M. Pickering and Ch. Clifton Jr. (Eds.), Architectures and mechanisms for language processing, 135–160. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cowan, R. (1995)."What are discourse principles made of?" In P. A. Downing and M. Noonan (Eds.), Word order in discourse, 29-49. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Egan, Th. (2008). Non-finite complementation. A usage-based study of infinitive and -ing clauses in English. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Enkvist, N. E. (1987). "Text linguistics for the applier: an orientation". In U. Connor and R. B. Kaplan (Eds.), Writing across languages: analysis of L2 texts, 23-42. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Eubank, L., Selinker, L., Sharwood Smith, M. (1995). The current state of interlanguage. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Frazier, L. (1979). On comprehending sentences: syntactic parsing strategies. Phd thesis. University of Connecticut.

Goldberg, A. E. (2006). Constructions at work: the nature of generalizations in language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Granger, S. (1996). "From CA to CIA and back: an integrated approach to computerized bilingual and learner corpora". In K. Aijmer, B. Altenberg and M. Johansson (Eds.), Languages in contrast. Text-based cross-linguistic studies, 37-51. Lund: Lund University Press.

Granger, S. (2002). "A bird’s eye of learner corpus research". In S. Granger, J. Hung and S. Petch-Tyson (Eds.), Computer learner corpora, Second Language Acquisition and Foreign Language Teaching, 3-33. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Granger, S. (2015). “Contrastive Interlanguage Analysis. A reappraisal”. International Journal of Learner Corpus Research, 1/1, 7–24.

Greenbaum, S., Nelson, G., Weitzman, M. (1996). "Complement clauses in English". In J. Thomas and M. H. Short (Eds.), Using corpora for language research: studies in honour of Geoffrey Leech, 76-91. London: Longman.

Gries, S. Th. (2003). Multifactorial analysis in corpus linguistics: a study of particle placement. New York: Continuum.

Gries, S. Th. (2007). Coll.analysis 3.2a. A program for R for Windows 2.x [Computer software].

Gries, S. Th., Stefanowitsch, A. (2004). “Extending collostructional analysis. A corpus-based perspective on ‘alternations’”. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics, 9/1, 97-129.

Hajicová, E., Vrbová, J. (1981). “On the saliency of the elements of the stock of shared knowledge”. Folia Linguistica, 15, 291–303.

Hawkins, J. A. (1999). “The relative order of prepositional phrases in English: going beyond manner-place-time”. Language Variation and Change, 11/3, 231-266.

Hawkins, J. A. (2004). Efficiency and complexity in grammars. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hawkins, J. A. (2006). "Gradedness as relative efficiency in the processing of syntax and semantics". In G. Fanselow, C. Féry, R. Vogel and M. Schlesewsky (Eds.), Gradience in grammar. Generative perspectives, 207-226. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hawkins, J. A. (2007). Performance and grammatical variation in the ordering of verb, direct objects and obliques. Paper presented at DGfS, Siegen.

Herbst, Th., Heath, D., Roe, I. F., Götz, D., Klotz, M. (2004). A valency dictionary of English. A corpus-based analysis of the complementation patterns of English verbs, nouns and adjectives. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Hulk, A., Müller, N. (2000). “Bilingual first language acquisition at the interface between syntax and pragmatics”. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 3/3, 227-244.

Kinne, A. (2017). "Weight as a determinant of syntactic variation in English L1 and L2 academic writing: a corpus study of weight effects in verb-particle/prepositional phrase combinations". In P. De Haan, S. van Vuuren and R. de Vries (Eds.), Language, learners and levels: progression and variation. Corpora and language in use – Proceedings, 3, 129–151. Louvain-la-Neuve: Presses universitaires de Louvain.

Lardiere, D. (2009). “Some thoughts on the contrastive analysis of features in Second Language Acquisition”. Second Language Research, 25/2, 173-227.

Lardiere, D. (2012). "Linguistic approaches to second language syntax". In S. M. Gass and A. Mackey (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of Second Language Acquisition, 106-126. London: Routledge.

Lozano, C. (2014). "Word order in second language Spanish". In K. L. Geeslin (Ed.), The handbook of Spanish Second Language Acquisition, 287-310. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Lozano, C., Callies, M. (2018, forthcoming). "Word order and information structure in advanced SLA". In P. Malovrh and A. G. Benati (Eds.), The handbook of advanced proficiency in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Lozano, C., Mendikoetxea, A. (2008). "Postverbal subjects at the interfaces in Spanish and Italian learners of L2 English: a corpus analysis". In G. Gilquin, S. Papp and M. B. Díez-Bedmar (Eds.), Linking up contrastive and learner corpus research, 85-125. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Lozano, C., Mendikoetxea, A. (2010). “Interface conditions on postverbal subjects: a corpus study of L2 English”. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 13/4, 475-497.

Mair, Ch. (1990). Infinitival complement clauses in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Matthews, P. H. (2007). Syntactic relations. A critical survey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, J. E., Weinert, R. (1998). Spontaneous spoken language: syntax and discourse. London: Clarendon Press.

Mitkov, R. (1998). “The latest in anaphora resolution: going multilingual”. SEPLN, 23, 1-17.

Monaghan, P., Rowland, C. F. (2016). “Combining language corpora with experimental and computational approaches for language acquisition research”. Language Learning, 67/1, 14-39.

Müller, N., Hulk, A. (2001). “Crosslinguistic influence in bilingual language acquisition: Italian and French as recipient languages”. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 4/1, 1–21.

Nemser, W. (1971). “Approximative systems of foreign language learners”. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 9/2, 115-123.

Noonan, M. (2007 [1985]). "Complementation". In T. Shopen (Ed.), Language typology and syntactic description. Volume II: Complex constructions, 52-150. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Osborne, J. (2008). "Adverb placement in post-intermediate learner English: a contrastive study of learner corpora". In G. Gilquin, M. B. Diez-Bedmar and S. Papp (Eds.), Linking contrastive and Learner Corpus Research, 127–146. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Pickering, M. J., Clifton Jr., Ch., Crocker, M. W. (2000). "Architectures and mechanisms in sentence comprehension". In M. W. Crocker, M. Pickering and Ch. Clifton Jr. (Eds.), Architectures and mechanisms for language processing, 1–28. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Prideaux, G. D., Baker, W. J. (1986). Strategies and structures: the processing of relative clauses. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G., Svartvik, J. (1985). A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman.

Rothman, J., Pascual y Cabo, D. (2014). "Generative approaches to Spanish Second Language Acquisition". In K. L. Geeslin (Ed.), The Handbook of Spanish Second Language Acquisition, 46-63. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Rutherford, W. E. (1983). "Language typology and language transfer". In S. M. Gass and L. Selinker (Eds.), Language transfer in language learning, 358-370. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House.

Schwartz, B. D., Sprouse, R. A. (1996). “L2 cognitive states and the Full Transfer/Full Access model”. Second Language Research, 12, 40-72.

Scott, R. M., Fisher, C. (2012). “2.5-Year-olds use cross-situational consistency to learn verbs under referential uncertainty”. Cognition, 122/2, 163-180.

Selinker, L. (1972). “Interlanguage”. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 10/1–4, 209-232.

Shih, S., Grafmiller, J. (2011). Weighing in on end weight. Paper presented at the 85th Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America. Pittsburg, PA, 9–11 January.

Sorace, A. (2011). “Pinning down the concept of ‘interface’ in bilingualism”. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 1/1, 1–33.

Sorace, A. (2012). “Pinning down the concept of ‘interface’ in bilingualism: a reply to peer commentaries”. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 2/2, 209-216.

Sorace, A., Filiaci, F. (2006). “Anaphora resolution in near-native speakers of Italian”. Second Language Research, 22/3, 339-368.

Stefanowitsch, A., Gries, S. Th. (2005). “Covarying collexemes”. Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory, 1/1, 1-43.

Szmrecsányi, B. M. (2004). "On operationalizing syntactic complexity". In G. Purnelle, C. Fairon and A. Dister (Eds.), Le poids des mots: Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Textual Data Statistical Analysis, March 10-12, 2004, Vol II, 1032–1039. Louvain-la-Neue: Presses universitaires de Louvain.

Tizón-Couto, B. (2014). Clausal complements in native and learner spoken English. A corpus-based study with Lindsei and Vicolse. Bern: Peter Lang.

Traugott, E. C. (1992). "Syntax". In R. M. Hogg (Ed.), The Cambridge history of the English language. Volume I: The beginnings to 1066, 168-289. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vallduví, E., Engdahl, E. (1996). “The linguistic realization of information packaging”. Linguistics, 34, 459-519.

White, L. (2011). “Second Language Acquisition at the interfaces”. Lingua, 121/4: 577–590.

Yaruss, J. S. (1999). “Utterance length, syntactic complexity, and childhood stuttering”. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 42/2, 329–344.