DOI: 10.1177/13670069231190729 ISSN:

Tracking global English changes through local data: Intensifiers in German Learner English

Julia Davydova
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education

Aims and objectives/purpose/research questions:

The empirical goal of the paper is to document the linguistic distribution and patterning as well as the sociolinguistic conditioning of intensifiers in English spoken by educated young adults from Germany. Here, I also seek to understand how the empirical data presented here informs our understanding of the mechanisms underlying language change in those forms of English that emerge through the combined impact of naturalistic L2 acquisition and instructed foreign language learning (henceforth, EFL or Learner English).


The study reports intensification data from 53 advanced learners of English from Germany and compares it with that reported for L1 English vernaculars. The data were elicited with the help of sociolinguistic interviews tapping into learners’ natural linguistic behaviour. The processes of language change are explored against the backdrop of grammaticalisation theory, as espoused by variationist sociolinguists.

Data and analysis:

The study employs two methods of analysis: distributional percentages and fixed-effects logistic regression analyses. These allow pinpoint rates and patterns of intensification as well as its language-internal and language-external conditioning.


Systematic comparisons of language-internal conditioning underlying the occurrence of linguistic variants pinpoint ‘functional specialisation’ (also ‘entrenchment’) as a driving mechanism of and a potent constraint on language change.


While demonstrating how functional specialisation is operative in the system of German Learner English intensification, the present study highlights the relevance of EFL data to empirical testing and advancement of (socio-)linguistic theory. The study also highlights the relevance of learners’ linguistic identity and the sociopsychological construct of ‘relatedness’ in the adoption of the globally available features of the English language.


The study pleads for more research at the intersection of historical/general linguistics and SLA as such an approach adds to knowledge about language acquisition, language variation and, ultimately, language change.

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