This chapter develops the notion of ‘languaging’ meant as “the process of making meaning and shaping knowledge and experience through language” (Swain 2006) by exploring the extent to which the process of corpus tagging carried out by communities of non-native speakers of English as a ‘lingua franca’ (henceforward ELF – cf. Guido 2008; Seidlhofer 2011) from different linguacultural backgrounds can explain different experiential interpretations of the meaning of English modal verbs as ‘keywords in context’. In this way, the view of languaging meant in the Vygotskyan perspective as schemata (or ‘inner speech’) that becomes conscious through the mediation of words comes to be actualized into (a) the development of a ‘problem-oriented tagging’ for the annotation and the functional analysis of English corpora, and (b) the use of such tagging to enquire into possible semantic and pragmatic ‘transfer processes’ from the speakers’ L1s to their respective ELF variations – which may occur as they interpret a number of English modal verbs identified in strings of text from the LOB and Brown corpora. The ‘problem-oriented tagging’ devised for this research differs from the conventional models of ‘corpus-tagging’ insofar as it is not intended for the annotation of every word in a corpus (cf. de Haan 1984), but only for those words that are relevant to this specific enquiry – i.e., modal verbs. The purpose is to explore systematically, through the implementation of a case study, the following research questions concerning the widespread phenomena of the variable languaging processes identified in the interpretative responses from a sample of ELF speakers of different linguacultural backgrounds: - Can interpretative variability be the result of a corpus tagging that is conventionally formulated in a non-exhaustive way? Indeed, the automatic tagging integrated in many electronic corpora generally informs the analyst of the syntactic dimensions (cf. Leech 1993; Souter and Atwell 1994), but only rarely does it signal the semantic and pragmatic dimensions of the language (cf. Stenstrom 1984; Biber et al. 1998: 257-262); - Can interpretative variability be due to natural processes of syntactic, semantic and pragmatic transfer triggered by the ELF speakers’ minds in the attempt to make sense of the L2-English modal-verb structures that may be unfamiliar to them? (cf. Gass and Selinker 1983; Tarone 1988; Kasper and Blum-Kulka 1993). - Can such interpretative variability be due to a ‘cognitive transfer’ which defines ELF variations as continually changing processes (not as products, or ‘varieties’) in relation to the different socio-cultural experiences of the groups of non-native speakers from different linguacultural backgrounds who variably come to interpret the L2-English modal verbs? On such grounds it is here assumed that the creation of a tagging procedure oriented to a particular problematic area of the Functional Grammar – in this case, that of Modality – can become: (a) a useful research tool to highlight and, then, to qualitatively and quantitatively analyze some transfer issues identified in a sample of ELF speakers of different linguacultural background who give voice to their interpretations of the modal verbs as ‘key-words in context’ by means of the ‘think-aloud technique’ (Cohen and Hosenfeld, 1981; Ericsson and Simon 1984) that, through the activation of languaging processes, make their meaning associations conscious; and (b) a useful pedagogic tool aimed, on the one hand, to encourage non-native learners of English to reflect upon possible L1-transfer processes in their interpretations of modality meanings and, on the other, to develop efficient strategies for a principled teaching of ELF variations.
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