“There's like the Galleria and like all these like really great shoe stores”: Why non-native speakers do not speak this way and what it means for them

Term Paper, 2008

11 Pages, Grade: 1,3



Learners of a second language are confronted with different challenges. They have to learn new words and grammar rules and how to apply them. To improve their skills they need to be corrected or they must have the possibility to correct themselves by comparing their usage of the foreign language with that of native speakers. However, there are some implicit rules to using a language which are rarely detected by both learnes and native speakers. One of these cases is the usage of discourse markers (DM) (Svartvik 1980:171). Swedish linguist Jan Svartvik assumes that such particles’ inadequate applications have more far-reaching consequences during communication than grammatical incorrectness (1980:172).

In this essay I will concentrate on the DM like since it is amongst the most frequently used by native speakers of English (Fox Tree 2006:727, 2007:309; Müller 2005:197). As research has shown, non-native speakers use like less often as a DM than native speakers (Fuller 2003:200; Fung and Carter 2007:435; Hikyoung 2004:121; Müller 2005:230). Thus, I will firstly argue that the infrequent use of like as a DM[1]is one feature by which non-native speakers can be recognized as such. Secondly, I will show that this deficit in pragmatic competence effects their communications with native speakers negatively. I claim that the reasons for the lower rate of like relates to its pragmatic functions and the way in which English is taught.

Functions of Like

DMs are difficult to translate due to the variety of functions they can assume in spoken language (Fleischmann and Yaguello 2004:143). Often paraphrases are used to translate them. However, these are inadequate substitutes for DMs because paraphrases cannot function in as many ways as DMs can (Reinhardt 1998:339; Svartvik 1980:177).

Many linguists associate five pragmatic functions with like (Fleischmann and Yaguello 2004:131; Fox Tree 2007:299; Fuller 2003:189-190). Like can serve as:

(1) a “loose talk marker” (Andersen 1998:149),
(2) a “hedge” or “approximator” (Jucker, Smith, and Lüdge 2003:147, 151),
(3) an indicator that speakers need time to think (Fung and Carter 2007:435),
(4) a focus (Underhill 1988:234), or
(5) a “looseness marker” signalling that something different is meant from what is aid (Andersen 1998:153) .

This broad scope of functions makes it difficult for non-native speakers to translate like into their first language (L1) and understand all of its functions.

Differences of the Use of Like by Native and Non-Native Speakers

Several studies have been conducted on the use of DMs by native and non-native speakers. All clearly hint at differences between the usage by these two groups (Hellermann and Vergun 2007:176; Fuller 2003:201; Fung and Carter 2007:426; Müller 2005:230).

Like was used more than five times less often by German non-native speakers of English than by American native speakers in a research done by Simone Müller (2005:244). In Müller’s study, all 34 Americans used like at least one time, but only 44 out of 77 Germans did (2005:230). Lee Hikyoung compared the use of DMs of first­generation speakers, “1.5 generation speakers” (those who had left Korea before turning 18 years old), and second-generation speakers of Koran ethnicity. In his comparison of first-generation Korean-born speakers (non-native speakers of English) and US-born second-generation speakers (native speakers of English), he found out that the latter used like more than four times as often as the former (Hikyoung 2004:124). These results support my assumption that like is generally used at a lower rate by non-native speakers than by native speakers (Fuller 2003:202).

Only proficient non-native speakers who had lived in an English-speaking country and who spoke English regularly with native speakers were able to use like and other DMs coherently (Hellermann and Vergun 2007:167; Müller 2005:235, 237)[2]. Thus, an appropriate use of DMs can give hints at the level of “acculturation and assimilation into an English-speaking culture” (Hellermann and Vergun 2007:169)

Besides confirming the general infrequent use of DMs by non-native speakers, Janet M. Fuller further discovered that like and other DMs (except for oh and well) are used in different contexts by native speakers and non-native speakers (2003:204). Americans whose L1 was English used them less often for checking for common ground with friends. In contrast, non-native speakers used them in this function as often among friends as with strangers (Fuller 2003:206). This finding illustrates how difficult it is for non-native speakers of English to detect the proper use of DMs and imitate it correctly (Fuller 2003:204)[3].


[1]In the following, like always refers to like as a DM unless otherwise stated.

[2]This effect was significantly higher when the non-native speakers were influenced by American English instead of British English (Müller 2005:239).

[3]According to research done by Fuller, non-native speakers are, however, able to place DMs correctly (Fuller 2003:200).

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“There's like the Galleria and like all these like really great shoe stores”: Why non-native speakers do not speak this way and what it means for them
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Native Speaker, English as a second language, discourse markers, like
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Kathrin Biegner (Author), 2008, “There's like the Galleria and like all these like really great shoe stores”: Why non-native speakers do not speak this way and what it means for them, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/168701


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