Corpus-based study of the use of English general extenders spoken by Japanese users of English across speaking proficiency levels and task types
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There is a pronounced shift in English language teaching policy in Japan with the recognition not only of the importance of spoken English and interactional competence in a globalised world, but also the need to emphasise it within English language pedagogy. Given this imperative to improve the oral communication skills of Japanese users of English (JUEs), it is vital for teachers of English to understand the cultural complexities surrounding the language, one of which is the use of vague language, which has been shown to serve both interpersonal and interactional functions in communications. One element of English vague language is the general extender (for example, or something). The use of general extenders by users of English as a second language (L2) has been studied extensively. However, there is a lack of research into the use of general extenders by JUEs, and their functional differences across speaking proficiency levels and contexts. This study sought to address the knowledge gap, critically exploring the use of general extenders spoken by JUEs across speaking proficiency levels and task types. The study drew on quantitative and qualitative corpus-based tools and methodologies using the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology Japanese Learner English Corpus (Izumi, Uchimoto, & Isahara, 2004), which contains transcriptions of a speaking test. An in-depth analysis of individual frequently-occurring general extenders was carried out across speaking proficiency levels and test tasks (description, narrative, interview and role-play) in order to reveal the frequency, and the textual and functional complexity of general extenders used by JUEs. In order to ensure the relevance of the application of the findings to the context of language education, the study also sought language teachers’ beliefs on the use of general extenders by JUEs. Three general extenders (or something (like that), and stuff, and and so on) were explored due to their high frequency within the corpus. The study showed that the use of these forms differed widely across the JUEs’ speaking proficiency levels and task types undertaken: or something (like that) is typically used in description tasks at the higher level and in interview and description tasks at the intermediate level; and stuff is typical of the interview at the higher level; and so on of the interview at the lower-intermediate level. The study also revealed that a greater proportion of the higher level JUEs use general extenders than do those at lower levels, while those with lower speaking proficiency level who do use general extenders, do so at an high density. A qualitative exploration of concordance lines and extracts revealed a number of interpersonal and discourse-oriented functions across speaking proficiency levels: or something (like that) functions to show uncertainty about information or linguistic choice and helps the JUEs to hold their turn; and stuff serves to make the JUEs’ expression emphatic; and so on appears to show the JUEs’ lack of confidence in their language use, and signals the desire to give up their turn. The findings suggest that the use of general extenders by JUEs is multifunctional, and that this multi-functionality is linked to various elements, such as the level of language proficiency, the nature of the task, the real time processing of their speech and the power asymmetry where the time and floor are mainly managed by the examiners. The study contributes to extending understanding of how JUEs use general extenders to convey interpersonal and discourse-oriented functions in the context of language education, in speaking tests and possibly also in classrooms, and provides new insights into the dynamics of L2 users’ use of general extenders. It brings into questions the generally-held view that the use of general extenders by L2 users as a group is homogenous. The findings from this study could assist teachers to understand JUEs’ intentions in their speech and to aid their speech production. More importantly, it may raise language educators’ awareness of how the use of general extenders by JUEs varies across speaking proficiency levels and task types. These findings should have pedagogical implications in the context of language education, and assist teachers in improving interactional competence, in line with emerging English language teaching policy in Japan.