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Review of  The Advanced Learner Variety

Reviewer: Dalila Ayoun
Book Title: The Advanced Learner Variety
Book Author: Emmanuelle Labeau Florence Myles
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 21.3055

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Editors: Emmanuelle Labeau and Florence Myles
Title: The Advanced Learner Variety. The Case of French.
Series: Contemporary Studies in Descriptive Linguistics, 12
Publisher: Peter Lang
Year: 2009

Dalila Ayoun, Department of French & Italian, University of Arizona


This edited volume gathers a selection of the papers given at the workshop
'Revisiting Advanced Varieties in L2 Learning' at Aston University in 2006,
organized by the editors Emmanuelle Labeau and Florence Myles, who state in a
brief introduction that the purpose of the workshop was to revisit the research
conducted with L2 learners at high levels of proficiency and to provide an
update since the publication of the 1997 'Acquisition et Interaction en Langue
Etrangère' special issue edited by Inge Bartning on the same topic.

The goals of Chapter 1 (‘The advanced learner variety: 10 years later’, by Inge
Bartning) are to describe the advanced learner variety from the end-state
perspective and towards the end-state as a developmental perspective where the
advanced variety is identified with morpho-syntactic features along a six-stage
acquisitional continuum (Bartning & Schlyter 2004) as well as to present a
state-of-the-art account of the research carried out since 1997. The
morpho-syntactic features include verbal morphology, negation, object clitics,
gender marking, and subordination. The advanced stage is described based on
three main criteria: TAM (tense, aspect, modality), subject-verb agreement, and
the distinction between finite and non-finite forms. This chapter also
introduces preliminary findings from corpus data (Swedish learners living in
Paris), which illustrate verb and gender agreement errors produced by highly
proficient learners.

Chapter 2 (‘The use of verb morphology by advanced L2 learners and native
speakers of French,' by Alex Housen, Nancy Kemps and Michel Pierrard) examines
whether Bartning & Schlyter’s (2004) acquisitional route and proficiency stages
proposed for L1 Swedish learners also hold for other L1 learners of L2 French.
L1 Dutch learners perform a story-retelling task, in which their acquisition of
verbal morphology is tested, in particular the distinction between finite and
non-finite, subject-verb agreement marking, and the development of TAM. It is
concluded that overall the findings validate the criteria proposed by Bartning &
Schylter, which include a number of morphological and syntactic features such as
verb morphology, objects clitics and gender-marking, but these features may not
be sufficient. The authors suggest that learners can be at different proficiency
stages depending on the linguistic criteria used; some features – such as
inflectional verb morphology, subject-verb agreement and the distinction between
finite and non-finite forms used at the advanced stage – may also be more
helpful than others in discriminating stages of proficiency.

Chapter 3 (‘An imperfect mastery: the acquisition of the functions of imparfait
by anglophone learners,' by Emmanuelle Labeau) revisits the French 'imparfait'
with a theoretical overview according to which the main difficulty for L1
English learners of L2 French resides in the fact that the main aspectual
distinction is between the perfective and the progressive in English, whereas in
French it is between the perfective and the imperfective, the latter being
encoded by the imparfait, which also expresses several semantic values (i.e.,
imperfective, durative, iterative). Kilhlstedt (1998, 2002) and Howard (2005)
used empirical data to propose different acquisitional stages based on empirical
data which may be problematic. This chapter asks instead whether a developmental
order for the imparfait could be based on theoretical accounts with an
implicational scale of functions as well as other factors (verb types,
discursive context). Analyses of cartoon retelling and a cloze test indicate a
strong task effect (e.g., greater use of the imparfait in the cloze test than in
the narrative) as well a structural effect at the sentential level.

Chapter 4 (‘Short- versus long-term effects of naturalistic exposure on the
advanced instructed learner’s L2 development. A case study,’ by Martin Howard)
surveys the study- abroad literature in order to examine the advanced learner’s
socio-pragmatic, lexical and grammatical development during and after a
study-abroad stay, the latter being less researched than the former. The chapter
then focuses on the use of verbal morphology to express past time by Irish
learners of L2 French, supported with longitudinal data (in the form of
interviews) collected before, immediately after and a year after the learners'
study-abroad stay in France and presents a case study based on a single
participant. The findings are mixed in that the learner progresses in some areas
(e.g., present) but seems to regress in others (e.g., past tense morphology in
general) and stagnates in others (e.g., imparfait, discourse grounding).
Studying abroad may not necessarily offer the best environment for morphological
development contrary to popular belief.

Chapter 5 (‘Aspects of the interlanguage of advanced Greek-speaking Cypriot
learners of French: relative clauses,’ by Monique Monville-Burston and Fryni
Kakoyianni-Doa) examines the written productions of multilingual (Cypriot Greek,
Standard Modern Greek and English) L2 French learners to study relative
constructions. Only about 15% of the learners’ relative clauses are non-standard
in that relative clauses with clause-initial relative pronouns are replaced by
reduced, resumptive, pleonastic or null-connective relative clauses, some of
which are attested in non-standard forms of French even by educated native
speakers. Future research will examine possible factors that may contribute in
the immediate or more distant context to the triggering of these non-standard

Chapter 6 (‘The advanced L2 writer of French: a study of number agreement in
Swedish learners,’ by Malin Ågren) compares the written productions of 60 L1
Swedish learners of L2 French (Corpus Ecrit de Français Langue Etrangère) with
French native speakers to analyze morphological number marking and agreement in
nominal and verbal phrases. Findings show that omissions of the silent plural
'–s' are extremely rare: Advanced L2 learners omit the plural marker on third
person pronouns less frequently than the native speakers and more so on regular
verbs than on irregular verbs. On the other hand, plural agreement is less
consistent on adjectives than on verbs.

Chapter 7 (‘Formulaic sequences: a distinctive feature at the advanced/very
advanced levels of second language acquisition,’ by Fanny Forsberg) first points
out that the term ‘formulaic language/sequences’ is problematic because it is
used differently by various researchers and also because it can refer to,
without being the same as, other terms such as collocations, idiomatic
expressions, prefabs and so on. The present chapter proposes a new definition of
a formulaic sequence as an element being composed of “at least two graphic
words. It is preferred, that is more frequent in a given context, in native
speakers’ production, than a combination that could have been equivalent had
there been no conventionalization” (p. 177, original emphasis). The analyses of
interviews of three groups of learners (advanced, very advanced L2 learners and
French native speakers from the InterFra corpus, Bartning & Schlyter 2004)
reveal significant differences (e.g., general quantity of formulaic sequences,
overuse of discourse markers) between advanced learners and very advanced
learners, the latter being very close to native speakers.

Chapter 8 (‘The acquisition of phraseological units by advanced learners of
French as an L2: high frequency verbs and learner corpora,’ by Catherine Bolly)
analyzes written phraseological units or (semi-) fixed lexical combinations with
the two high-frequency verbs 'donner' (give) and 'prendre' (take). The L2
French corpus FRIDA (French interlanguage database) contains argumentative texts
written by L1 English learners and the control corpus is made of texts written
by French university students. The results of quantitative, parametric and
statistical analyses in terms of overuse, underuse and misuse reveal significant
differences between 'prendre' and 'donner' in the frequency of use,
phraseological units being underused with 'prendre' but overused with 'donner.'

Chapter 9 (‘Syntactic complexity and discourse complexity in Japanese L1 and
French L2: three case studies,’ by Dominique Klingler) compares principles of
syntactic and discourse organization and examines how they are inter-related in
the written narratives produced in L1 Japanese and L2 French by three
participants (already partially analyzed in Klingler-Maestrali 2001). The
analysis shows that at times advanced Japanese learners may use more complex
syntactic and textual structures in their L2 than in their L1 in a reportive
style and that they tend to use coordination devices rather than integrative
devices; they also use the equivalent of topicalization markers.

Chapter 10 (‘Style in L2: the icing on the cake?’ by Henry Tyne) considers the
issue of style as part of sociolinguistic competence. It analyzes speech samples
collected from L1 English learners of L2 French at two different levels (first
year students and fourth year students) in three different situations: formal
oral presentation, formal conversation and informal conversation. Findings
establish that there is variation in the L2 data, but that the advanced learners
do not necessarily show the most variation; as part of naturally occurring
social interaction, it seems that variation in style is evidenced among less
advanced learners as well.

Chapter 11 (‘The influence of L1 French on near native French learners of
English: the case of simultaneity,’ by Pascale Leclercq) focuses on the concept
of ‘ongoingness,’ which is grammatically marked in English with '-ing' but
lexically marked in French with 'être en train de.' How close to native speakers
do L2 learners get in expressing ongoingness in situations of simultaneity? A
film-retelling task consisted in asking participants (12 French native speakers,
20 English native speakers and 10 French L2 speakers of English) to watch five
video commercials as often as necessary to memorize them and be able to recount
the events. Clear differences were observed between the French and English
native speakers regarding use of presentatives, temporal adverbs and aspect. It
appears that the performance of very advanced French learners of English is
native-like at the microstructural level but remains influenced by the L1 at the
macrostructural level.


First, regarding the overall organization of the volume, it is somewhat
suprising that the chapters are not numbered (they were numbered above in the
order in which they appear in the volume) and there is no thematic division of
the volume either, although it is mentioned in the introduction that “the
contributions are distributed in 4 parts” (p. 8): 1) advanced L2 morpho-syntax
(the first five chapters); 2) lexis and formulaic sequences (the following two
chapters); 3) discourse and pragmatics (the following two chapters). The
remaining chapters are not mentioned. Most of the chapters thus investigate the
acquisition of morpho-syntactic features, the two chapters on lexis and
formulaic sequences (a somewhat neglected area generally) as well as the chapter
on stylistic variation are a welcome addition to the volume, which would also
have benefitted from at least one chapter on phonological acquisition and/or
variation, an important part of an advanced learner’s repertoire.
This interesting volume illustrates both the importance and the difficulties in
investigating and defining advanced stages of proficiency in a given language.
Clear criteria would bring a greater uniformity in empirical studies, making the
findings more generalizable and reliable. But not all the chapters use Bartning
& Schlyter’s (2004) acquisitional route and proficiency stages outlined in the
first chapter; instead, some chapters use different criteria (e.g., years of
instruction or classes in which participants are enrolled) to argue that the
participants were advanced learners, which means that the volume lacks somewhat
in consistency and the reader may be left with more questions than answers about
which criteria can truly be used to describe an advanced learner.
Chapter 2 by Alex Housen, Nancy Kemps and Michel Pierrard is the most helpful in
furthering the criteria and stages that Bartning & Schlyter (2004) propose,
because it systematically examines whether they hold for other L1 learners of L2
French. The three points of their conclusion – a) the criteria proposed by
Bartning & Schylter are valid but not always; b) different linguistic criteria
may place learners at different proficiency stages; c) some features may be more
helpful than others in discriminating stages of proficiency – show how crucial
it is to continue to test these criteria and stages.
Finally, the literature review of most chapters is generally limited to research
carried out in Europe, where most of the L2 French corpora are being gathered,
but a number of worthwhile empirical studies carried out elsewhere could have
informed the discussion particularly in the area of the acquisition of TAM
(e.g., Salaberry 2008).


Bartning, I. 1997. (Ed.). Special issue on Les apprenants avancés, Acquisition
et Interaction en Langue Etrangère 9.

Bartning, I. and Schlyter, S. 2004. Itinéraires acquisitionnels et stades de
développement en français L2. Journal of French Language Studies 14: 1-19.

Howard, M. 2005. L’acquisition de l’imparfait par l’apprenant avancé du français
langue étrangère. In E. Labeau & P. Larrivée (eds), Nouveaux développements de
l’imparfait (Cahiers Chronos), 175-197. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Hyltenstam, K., Bartning, I. and Fant, L. 2005. High level proficiency in second
language use. Research programme for Riksbanken Jubileumsfond (Ms., Stockolm

Kilhlstedt, M. 1998. La réference au passé dans le dialogue: étude de
l’acquisition de la temporalité chez des apprenants dits avancés de français
(Cahiers de la recherche 6). Stockholm.

Kilhlstedt, M. 2002. Reference to past events in dialogue: the acquisition of
tense and aspect by advanced learners of French. In: The L2 Acquisition of
Tense-Aspect Morphology, R. Salaberry & Y. Shirai (eds), 323-361. Amsterdam:
John Benjamins.

Klingler-Maestrali, D. 2001. Connecteurs en français L2 et “équivalents” en
japonais L1: une perspective sur la production bilingue. Thèse de doctorat,
Paris 3, Sorbonne Nouvelle.

Salaberry, R. 2008. Marking Past Tense in Second Language Acquisition: A
theoretical model. London: Continuum.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Dalila Ayoun is an Associate Professor of French Linguistics and SLAT (Second Language Acquistion and Teaching) in the department of French and Italian at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She also holds a courtesy appointment in the Department of Linguistics. Her main research interests focus on French applied linguistics and second language acquisition from a generative perspective.

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