Non-native speaker collocations: A corpus-driven characterization from the writing of native speakers of Mandarin
Non-native speaker difficulty in producing collocations (i.e., domain-specific recurrent word combinations) is widely acknowledged (see, e.g., Bahns 19 9, Channel 1981, Farghal and Obiedat 1995, Gitsaki 1996, and Zughoul 1991). Phrases such as *a convenient price or *marketing share instead of the native speaker collocations a reasonable price and market share, for example, comprise a substantial number of advanced learner errors written by native speakers of Mandarin in a business English context. This problem has been addressed in the form of domain-specific reference and teaching materials (see Flower and Martinez 1995 and Tuck 1993). While these materials--which are based on analyses of native speaker texts and/or native speaker intuition--accurately represent native-speaker language, it is unclear whether they meet the needs of the language learner. The actual collocational needs of the learner can only be confirmed through an analysis of "learner" collocations themselves.
This study examines idiosyncratic English collocations produced by native speakers of Mandarin in written assignments for an MBA English preparation course. The collocations themselves were identified, divided into types, and examined in a series of qualitative and quantitative analyses. The objective of the study was to synthesize from these analyses a characterization of learner collocation.
The initial qualitative analysis identified four categories of idiosyncrasy in learner collocation: lexical transfer, and phonological, grammatical, and semantic influence. Those learner collocations classified as containing a semantic idiosyncrasy comprised more than half the total. Quantitative analyses revealed that learner collocations tend to involve an idiosyncrasy in either form or meaning, but rarely both. Learner collocations involving semantic idiosyncrasy were further analyzed into two parts: a headword and a functor. The site of the idiosyncrasy was most often the functor, and rarely occurred on both parts of the same collocation simultaneously.
This analysis of learner collocations provides insight into the nature of learners' distinctive production problems with collocation, and supports the creation of effective teaching materials and reference works based upon the difficulties demonstrated by the learner in producing collocations.