The acquisition of colloquial speech and slang in second language learners of English in El Paso, Texas

Patricia Brannon Bradford, University of Texas at El Paso


Typically, L2 researchers' explain the lack of acquisition of L2 colloquial idiomatic speech by the learner's failure to achieve appropriate group membership (Fishman, 1965). This study sets out to explore linguistic aspects that could also be responsible for the hindering or helping the acquisition of English L2 slang. The main claim of the study is that in the borderland of El Paso, Texas, speakers of Spanish attempting to acquire English will acquire more rapidly colloquial speech that is lexical as opposed to colloquial speech that is phrasal. Frequency will also be tested. The test items will be divided into four groups: high-frequency lexical, high-frequency phrasal, low-frequency lexical, and low-frequency phrasal. Background and Significance: For this study, colloquial speech will be defined only as informal, conversational speech. Slang is considered a part of colloquial speech. Below are some of the background studies found on colloquial speech and slang in the L2. Exploring colloquial speech, slang, and culturally conditioned vocabulary is very important for the field of second language acquisition if the goal of SLA is native like fluency and competence. Colloquial speech is so much a part of a language that failing to acquire colloquialisms, or even slang, could result in the failure of mastering the language. Even if the L2 learner might not produce some of the colloquial language or slang language himself, it is still necessary to understand this language for comprehension in movies, television, other forms of media, and basic conversation with peers. However, in order to understand how this type of language is acquired, we must first define it and understand it linguistically before we can go about devising the best ways of acquiring it. Method, Design, and Proposed Statistical Analysis: The research instrument will be a multiple choice vocabulary survey. The survey consists of 40 colloquial speech items that are split into four groups of ten: high frequency lexical, high frequency phrasal, low frequency lexical, and low frequency phrasal. The frequencies were determined from the Brigham Young University corpus on American English from the years 1990-2010. I used only the spoken data from the corpus and thus the number of words was limited to spoken 80 million. I checked all the items in my test for frequency to group them as high or low frequency. There is at least an 80 word difference between low frequency items and high frequency items, meaning that any high frequency item occurs at least 80 times more in the corpus than a given low frequency item. Each participant will also fill out a language questionnaire to assess their linguistic background and their proficiency in the L2. As a control, ten native English speakers will be asked to answer the vocabulary survey as well. The native English speakers will be UTEP students and peers of the researcher. The survey will be administered to thirty L2 English speakers whose first language is Spanish. The participants will be tested at the University of Texas at El Paso, and they will be selected from classes of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) 1309, 1406, and 1312. ESOL 1309 and 1406 are intermediate classes, and ESOL 1312 is an advanced class. It is anticipated that we will see a difference between the intermediate and advanced classes, with the intermediate classes having acquired at least the high frequency lexical items and many low frequency items. However, it is anticipated that the advanced class will have acquired to some degree high frequency lexical, low frequency lexical, and high frequency phrasal. In the vocabulary survey the participants will be asked to determine the meaning of a colloquial word or phrase. The participant will not write in his or her own response, but instead will be given four answers to choose from; three choices will be incorrect and one choice will be correct. An example is given below; If someone says, "That woman is a cougar" what does this mean? (a) That woman dates older guys (b) That woman dates younger guys (c) That woman dates older women (d) That woman dates many people All of the answers are in a uniform sentence structure. The word or phrase that is the target is not used in the multiple choice answers. For example, in the above example with the word "Cougar" a possible choice in the answer section could not include the word cougar, i.e. That woman has a baby cougar. The survey is expected to show that the SLA learner's have a greater knowledge of lexical items and a lesser knowledge of phrasal colloquialisms. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Subject Area

Linguistics|English as a Second Language

Recommended Citation

Bradford, Patricia Brannon, "The acquisition of colloquial speech and slang in second language learners of English in El Paso, Texas" (2010). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1484150.