Linguistics and the Human Sciences, Vol 6, No 1-3 (2010)

The use of it-clefts in the written production of Spanish advanced learners of English

Susana Doval Suárez, Elsa González Álvarez
Issued Date: 13 Dec 2012


Learner writing has been shown to differ from native speakers’ (NS) writing in terms of frequency of certain words or structures (Granger et al., 2002). On the basis of data obtained from two comparable corpora, the Spanish component of the ICLE (International Corpus of Learner English) and the LOCNESS (Louvain Corpus of Native English Essays), the present study explores the use of it-cleft constructions, a type of focusing device that has been claimed to be over-represented in the written production of advanced learners with different L1 backgrounds (Böstrom Aronsson, 2003; Callies, 2009). Its objective is threefold: first of all, to investigate how Spanish advanced EFL learners compare with NSs from the point of view of their use of it-clefts, thereby contributing to the characterization of advanced learner variety (ALV). Secondly, it addresses the issue of how NNSs and NSs compare regarding their use of the different discourse functions of it-clefts (i.e. identification and contrast), and also regarding the selection of the highlighted element. Finally, the study investigates whether the differences between the two groups may be attributed to influence of the L1. The Independent Samples t-test indicates that Spanish EFL learners significantly underuse it-clefts (t=2.100; p≤0.05). It is suggested that this underuse cannot be ascribed to L1 transfer but to the learners’ preference for other types of clefting, which points to the need for further research on the use of clefts in Spanish texts and in English texts written by Spanish learners. The results also indicate statistically significant differences between the two groups in the discourse functions assigned to it-clefts. It is suggested that the Spanish advanced learners’ underuse of contrast may also indicate that they prefer to use pseudoclefts and other lexical or syntactic means for this purpose. As regards the length and syntactic features (category and function) of the highlighted element and the use of the relative pronoun, our results confirm that Spanish learners have generally acquired the English pattern, even though more qualitative analysis is needed to provide a detailed description of this component of the learners’ pragmatic abilities.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/lhs.v6i1-3.151


Aston, G. (1995) Corpus evidence for norms of lexical collocation. In G. Cook and B. Seidlhofer (eds), Principle and Practice in Applied Linguistics: Studies in Honour of H. G. Widdowson, 257–270. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Barcelona-Sánchez, A. (1983) El Orden de los Constituyentes en Inglés y Español.Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Granada.
Biber, D., Johansson, S., Leech, G., Conrad, S. and Finegan, E. (1999) Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English. Harlow: Longman.
Boström Aronsson, M. (2001) It-clefts and pseudo-clefts in Swedish advanced learner English. Moderna Språk, 95 (1): 16–23.
Boström Aronsson, M. (2003) On clefts and information structure in Swedish EFL writing. In S. Granger and S. Petch-Tyson (eds), Extending the Scope of Corpus-Based Research. New Applications, New Challenges, 197–210. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
Bülow-Møller, A. (1996) Control from the background: A study of information structure in native and non-native discourse. International Journal of Applied Linguistics 6 (1): 21–42.
Butler, C. S. and Gonzálvez-García, F. (2005) Situating FDG in functional-cognitive space: an initial study. In J. L. Mackenzie and M. D. L. Á. Gómez-González (eds) Studies in Functional Discourse Grammar (Linguistic Insights, 26), 109–158. Berne: Peter Lang.
Callies, M. (2009) Information Highlighting in Advanced Learner English. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Callies, M. and Keller, W. (2008) The teaching and acquisition of focus constructions: An integrated approach to language awareness across the curriculum. Language Awareness17 (3): 249–266.
Carroll, M., Murcia-Serra, J., Matorek, M. and Bendiscioli, A. (2000) The relevance of information organization to second language acquisition studies. The descriptive discourse of advanced adult learners of German. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 22 (3): 441–466.
Chafe, W. (1976) Givenness, contrastiveness, definiteness, subjects, topics and point of view. In C. Li (ed.) Subject and Topic, 25–56. New York: Academic Press.
Cobb, T. (2003) Analyzing late interlanguage with learner corpora: Québec replications of three European studies. The Canadian Modern Language Review/La Revue canadienne des langues vivantes 59 (3): 393–423.
Collins, P. C. (1991) Cleft and Pseudo-Cleft Constructions in English. London: Routledge.
Council of Europe (2001) Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Learning, Teaching, Assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Di Tulio, Á. (1990) Sobre hendidas y pseudohendidas. Revista de Lengua y Literatura 7: 3–16.
Dik, S. (1980) Cleft and pseudo-cleft in functional grammar. In W. Zonneveld (ed.) Linguistics in the Netherlands 1977–1979,26–43.Dordrecht: Foris.
Dryer, M. S. (1995) Frequency and pragmatically unmarked word order. In P. Downing and M. Noonan (eds) Word Order in Discourse, 105–135. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Eckman, F. (1977) Markedness and the contrastive analysis hypothesis. Language Learning 27 (2): 315–330.
Eckman, F. (1996) A functional-typological approach to second language acquisition theory. In W. Ritchie and T. Bhatia (eds) Handbook of Second Language Acquisition, 195–211. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Gómez-González, M. D. L. Á. (2001) The Theme–Topic Interface: Evidence from English. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Gómez-González, M. D. L. Á. and Gonzálvez-García, F. (2005) On clefting in English and Spanish. In C. S. Butler, M. D. L. Á Gómez-González and S. M. Doval-Suárez (eds) The Dynamics of Language Use, 155–196. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Gonzálvez-García, F. and Butler, C. S. (2006) Mapping functional-cognitive space. Annual Review of Cognitive Linguistics 4 (1): 39–96.
Granger, S. (1996) From CA to CIA and back: An integrated approach to computerized bilingual and learner corpora. In K. Aijmer, B. Altenberg and M. Johansson (eds) Languages in Contrast. Text-based Cross-linguistic Studies. Lund Studies in English 88, 37–51. Lund: Lund University Press.
Granger, S., Dagneaux, E. and Meunier. F. (2002) The International Corpus of Learner English. Handbook and CD-ROM. Louvain-la-Neuve: Presses Universitaires de Louvain.
Greenberg, J. H. (1966) Some universals of grammar with particular reference to the order of meaningful elements. In J. H. Greenberg (ed.) Universals of Language (2nd edn), 73–113. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Gundel, J. K. (2008) Contrastive perspectives on cleft sentences. In M. D. L. Á. Gómez-González, J. L. Mackenzie and E. M. González Álvarez (eds) Languages and Cultures in Contrast and Comparison, 69–87. Amsterdam: Benjamins,
Halliday, M. A. K. (1967) Notes on transitivity and theme in English. Journal of Linguistics 3 (1): 37–81; 199–244.
Hannay, M. and Martínez-Caro, E. (2008) Thematic choice in the written English of advanced Spanish and Dutch learners. In G. Gilquin, S. Papp and B. Diez (eds) Linking up Contrastive and Learner Corpus Research. Language and Computer Series 66, 227–253. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
Hengeveld, K. and Mackenzie, J. L. (2008) Functional Discourse Grammar: A Typologically-Based Theory of Language Structure. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hinkel, E. (2002) Second Language Writers’ Text. Linguistic and Rhetorical Features. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Jespersen, O. (1949) A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles. Part VII: Syntax. Copenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard.
Klein, E. (1988) A contrastive analysis of focus phenomena in English and German on a functional basis and some implications for a didactic gramma. Die Neueren Sprachen 87 (4): 371–386.
Lambrecht, K. (1994) Information Structure and Sentence Form. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lambrecht, K. (2001) A framework for the analysis of cleft constructions. Linguistics 39 (3): 463–516.
Lube, K. (2000) Information Structure and Word Order in the Advanced Learner Variety. An Empirical Study with Applications for the Foreign Language Classroom. Hamburg: bod.Libri.
Martínez-Caro, E. (1999) Gramática del Discurso: Foco y Énfasis en Inglés y Español. Barcelona: PPU.
Martínez-Caro, E. (2007) Pragmatic frames, the thetic-categorical distinction and Spanish constituent order. Alfa -Revista de Lingüística, São Paulo, 51 (2): 119–142.
Moreno-Cabrera, J. C. (1999) Las funciones informativas: Las perífrasis de relativo y otras construcciones perifrásticas. In I. Bosque and V. Demonte (eds) Gramática Descriptiva de la Lengua Española, Vol. 3: Entre la oración y el discurso – Morfología, 4245–4302. Madrid: Espasa Calpe.
Pinedo, A. (2000) English clefts as discourse-pragmatic equivalents of Spanish post-verbal subjects. Estudios Ingleses de la Universidad Complutense 2000 (8): 127–151.
Plag, Ingo (1994) Avoidance in oral L2 production. The encoding of new referents in English interlanguage narratives. In G. Bartelt (ed.) The Dynamics of Language Processing. Essays in Honor of Hans W. Dechert, 33–44. Tübingen: Narr.
Prince, E. F. (1978) A comparison of wh-clefts and it-clefts in discourse. Language 54 (4): 883–906.
Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G. and Svartvik, J. (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London: Longman.
Rowley-Jolivet, E. and Carter-Thomas, S. (2005) Genre awareness and rhetorical appropriacy: Manipulation of information structure by NS and NNS scientists in the international conference setting. English for Specific Purposes 24 (1): 41–64.
Schachter, J. and Rutherford, W. (1979). Discourse function and language transfer. Working Papers in Bilingualism 19: 1–12.
Siewierska, A. (1994) Word order and linearization. In R. E. Asher and J. M. Y. Simpson (eds) The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (vol. 9), 4993–4999. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Singleton, D., and Lengyel, Z. (1995) The Age Factor in Second Language Acquisition. A Critical Look at the Critical Period Hypothesis. Clevedon: Adelaide.
Sornicola, R. (1994) Topic, focus, and word order. In R. E. Asher and J. M. Y. Simpson (eds) The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (vol. 9), 4633–4640. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Stutterheim, C. von. (2003) Linguistic structure and information organisation: The case of very advanced learners. In S. H. Foster-Cohen and S. Pekarek-Doehler (eds) EUROSLA Yearbook, 183–206. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Sornicola, R. (1994) Topic, focus, and word order. In R. E. Asher and J. M. Y. Simpson (eds) The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (vol. 9), 4633–4640. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Thompson, S. (1978) Modern English from a typological point of view: Some implications of the function of word order. Linguistische Berichte 54: 19–35.
Trévise, A. (1986) Is it transferable, topicalization? In E. Kellerman and M. Sharwood Smith (eds) Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language Acquisition?, 173–185. Oxford: Pergamon.
Van Valin, R. D., Jr. and La Polla, R. J. (1997) Syntax: Structure, Meaning and Function. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ward, G., Birner, B. and Huddleston, R. (2002) Information packaging. In R. Huddleston and G. K. Pullum (eds) The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, 1363–1443. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
White, L. and Genesee, F. (1996) How native is near-native? The issue of ultimate attainment in adult second language acquisition. Second Language Research 12 (3): 233–265.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email:

Privacy Policy