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The development of non-literal competence: Preliminary observations on overextensions

Abstract : This talk aimed at presenting preliminary observations on the use of non-literal sequences by French intermediate learners of English. Two groups of thirty students -majoring in French literature and Communication Studies- were asked to write essays as assessments for a required English class. Six types of non-literal sequences were identified in the essays -overextensions, L1 transfers, personifications, comparisons, idioms and metaphors. A special focus on word overextension was given (cf. "we loose people who could be our friends" for miss out on, or "je déshabille la banane" for éplucher; Duvignau, 2002: 142). Overextensions refer to a particular trend in language acquisition which consists in using a word to refer to items, actions or concepts beyond their usual scope of denotation or "for a broader range of referents than is conventional in [adult] usage" (Rescorla, 1979: 321). They relate to the learners' sheer language manipulation and, therefore, to the learners' idiosyncrasy. The nature, the -linguistic, conceptual and cultural- characteristics and the functions of these overextensions were studied. Then, we wondered whether they could be treated as preliminary signs of non-literal competence. The results revealed that they were numerous in the learners' essays, and that they were largely used to respond to a developing lexicon and difficulties to put it into use. This is in line with previous observations and research studies on early language development (Bassano, 2000; Duvignau, 2002; Clark, 1993). An interesting parallel between L1 acquisition, both from theoretical and methodological perspectives, was thus drawn.
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Contributor : Justine Paris <>
Submitted on : Saturday, August 3, 2013 - 5:18:48 PM
Last modification on : Friday, April 2, 2021 - 3:28:29 AM


  • HAL Id : hal-00850132, version 1



Justine Paris. The development of non-literal competence: Preliminary observations on overextensions. SNUGLS 2012, May 2012, Paris, France. ⟨hal-00850132⟩



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