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Issues in Applied Linguistics

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The Effects of Linguistic Context on Unplanned Discourse: A Studyin Interlanguage Variability


This study examines the variable realization of the third person singular -s by Shona learners of English at elementary and intermediate levels of proficiency. The study is unlike previous ones, not so much because it controls for differences in discourse mode but because it examines the effects of different linguistic contexts embedded in comparable discourse positions. The paper argues that although the performance of the subjects is elicited from unplanned discourse, different discourse segments might vary in terms of their degree of plannedness. The results demonstrate that very little morphological variability occurs in the production of elementary learners. The little variation exhibited is lexical. Some words attract target-language-like variants more frequently than others.

The performance of the intermediate group shows that the distribution of grammatical variants is sensitive to linguistic context and that, contrary to expectations, second language learners are more likely to inflect verbs to mark the third person -s if the grammatical subject is realized, as opposed to when it is not.

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