From Memorized Chunks to Rule Formation: A Study of Adult Chinese Learners of English

Xia Yu


Recent empirical research on the role of formulaic language appears to support the assumption that memorized chunks serve as a database for learning of the grammar, a process of what Skehan (1998) call ‘syntacticization’. This paper examines the possibility of ‘syntacticization’ without the help of explicit instruction in the case of adult classroom learners. The study reported here investigates the extent to which Chinese tertiary-level learners of English acquire the rule of despite + NP beyond initial memorization of chunks. This is a classroom experiment in which the data were collected from 104 non-English majors in a Chinese university through written elicitation tests. The subjects were randomly assigned to two memorization groups and an instruction group. The results seem to show that the participants in the memorization groups had difficulty inducing rules successfully based on the initial memorization of unanalysed chunks in contrast to their counterparts in the instruction group. More importantly, the study found that the learning of rules based on initial memorization of chunks might be regulated by the complexity of linguistic context in which the target rule is deployed. The paper concludes with pedagogical implications for the instruction of grammatical chunks.



Memorized Chunks; Rule Formation; Chinese Learners of English; Syntacticization

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