Without a doubt, human language is original and highly creative. There seem to be almost no limits to the many and varied ways in which we can express ourselves.
However, while we certainly can exercise the creative potential of our language, we do not necessarily do so. Much of the language we use in everyday situations is ‘formulaic’. We routinely operate with a rich, yet limited, repertoire of frequent, conventional and hence highly predictable phrases. We wish someone to have a nice week-end, but probably not a pleasant, fine, or enjoyable one. We offer a friend a cup of tea, and never a mug of tea. And those of us living in Wellington are more likely to experience heavy rains and strong winds than strong rains and heavy winds.
In other words, successful, efficient and competent language use requires us to draw on thousands of conventional sequences, rather than compute and create novel strings of language from scratch.
My research focuses on how native speakers and second language learners of English and Italian acquire, use and process familiar phrases (e.g., collocations: strong tea; binomials: fish and chips; multi-word verbs: run out; discourse markers: on the other hand; idioms: ring a bell, etc.). Thus, my research centres on the processes associated with the learning of frequent phrases (e.g., from a longitudinal perspective by following learners over a period of time) and their use in written and spoken language (e.g., Do second language learners underuse, or perhaps, overuse certain phrases in their writing compared to native speakers?). I am also very interested in how the human brain deals with highly frequent, familiar and predictable linguistic information and the processing benefits – or, indeed, costs where there is a deviation from the norm – that emerge for the hearer/reader or the speaker.