On Dominance and Submissiveness in Cognitive Linguistics—Mongo Yalbag SpecGram Vol CLVII, No 2 Contents Must Get Manuscripts/Fire Sale—Announcement from Panini Press

CALL-Emulation as CALL-Transitioning Strategy: A Pilot Study

Oliver Jormid and Peetr Otkinsoover
Grand Traverse Institute for Linguistics


The growing reliance of U.S. institutions on distance learning programs has led to an ever-increasing dependence on Computer Assisted Language-Learning (CALL) programs among departments that provide language instruction. Despite the many benefits of CALL technology, it is quite clear that interacting with computer programs and interacting with native speakers is quite different, and that learners accustomed to the former may have difficulty when engaging in the latter.

Recently, Varchar and Setnum() (2008) have argued that one way of ameliorating the problems caused by this disjunction is to afford learners a structured “transition” environment, which allows use of CALL technology while interacting with a native speaker. This intriguing proposal suggests an additional alternative as well, albeit one that Varchar and Setnum() did not discuss: the adoption of CALL-like behaviors by the native speaker as a way to bridge the gap between the learner’s prior experience and what is expected in a more realistic setting.

CALL programs create two kinds of experience for users that are relatively unlike normal communicationdifferent in degree, although not in kind. The computer programs are never partially cooperative; they either completely allow the user to control a particular function, or conversely present the user with an experience the user cannot in any way affect. Both of these conditions are created by each program, of coursethe user can, for example, cause the program to replay a section over and over again, but has no way at all to get the program to incorporate language not already built into it. These “maximum control” (maxcon) and “minimum control” (mincon) conditions create different learning outcomes, with maxcon (as would be expected) proving more beneficial to learning in the CALL environment (cf. Mandatus, Snorth, and Vanderschwiebel 2003). It is not clear, however, whether emulation of a maxcon condition by a native speaker produces similar effects.

The pilot study described here represents an attempt to test the efficacy of the “bridge” approach to CALL→speaker transitioning, and also to determine if the maxcon/mincon differential effect applies to native-speaker interactions as well.



Six native speakers of English (NSs) and twenty-two non-native speakers (NNSs). The NSs were all graduate students in the SLA program of the authors’ university. All had at least one half year of experience teaching EFL/ESL. Two had several years experience teaching EFL in the Peace Corps; they were placed in separate groups so as not to over-weight the experience level of either group. The Peace Corps veterans were also given a full course of anti-malarials before participating, as it was possible that some side effects of the disease would interfere with the CALL-like behaviors to be modeled.1

NNSs were students at the university’s Intensive Distance-Learning ESL program, and had tested as being “high intermediate” in comprehension, but “low intermediate” in production tasks.


The trial sessions were videotaped using a standard digital movie camera linked to a server. Some NSs were provided with a foam-rubber arrow-like device to use as a pointer (an earlier pilot study had determined that more durable or rigid materials were problematic in some cases).


One group of NSs (Group 1) were trained to engage in several specific behaviors to make interaction more similar to mincon conditions that NNSs commonly encounter in CALL programs; these behaviors were displayed infrequently but randomly (the researchers used cell-phones set to vibrate in order to cue the NSs to display the behavior, with the times determined via a random-number generator):

(A) NS stops speaking for two seconds, without any obvious reason, then speaks next word unusually quickly before adopting more normal speech rate.

(B) NS suddenly collapses, and ceases interaction except for repeatedly asking the NNS if s/he would like to report this problem to Microsoft.

Another group (Group 2) were trained to engage in specific behaviors that emulated maxcon conditions, triggered by specific actions on the part of the NNSs:

(C) NS exactly repeats previous phrase after being prodded in upper-right-hand corner of face with arrow-shaped pointing device held by NNS.

(D) NS skips forward four or five sentences when prodded in left kneecap by same device.

Obviously, D required the NNS to use memorized, rote speeches instead of adopting a more natural interactional style, but since this had the effect of increasing similarity to CALL environments, it was viewed as a positive effect.

NNSs were divided into two groups of eleven via random selection, with each group being assigned to one of the groups of NSs. Each NNS interacted with a NS during three ten-minute trials, and were told that the lesson material was to be related to “shopping.” The meeting room was set up with a table and some canned goods to enable role-play.


The videotapes, as well as exit interviews, were analyzed qualitatively, with the subjects’ behavior during each minute of the ten-minute sessions being assigned to one of the following categories:

HActive language use, with potential for facilitating learning.

MActive language use, but not task/related, or unlikely to facilitate learning.

LNo active language use, or uninterpretable behavior pattern.2

While both the mincon and maxcon conditions produced roughly equal numbers of “L”-category behavior (mx 200 vs. mn 220), the maxcon condition produced far higher incidence of “H”-category behavior (mx 300 vs. mn 12). It would thus appear that the differential hypothesis is borne out by the study.

In addition, we noticed some interesting effects in the actual language produced by the NNS after the end of the third trial. In the mincon group, the expression “You okay now?” became quite common. In the maxcon group, however, several of the students appear to have actively incorporated utterances from the NSs into their own repertoire, e.g.:

Interviewer: Did you learn anything from these interactions.
Student: They were very... very..... ow. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Ow. That okay?


The results strongly indicate that CALL-emulation routines should focus on duplicating maxcon behaviors, as these not only facilitated more active language use, but also engaged the students in discourse encouraging emotional expression, which is not often reinforced by standard CALL programs but which is absolutely critical in interactions with NSs.


Mandatus, Choriastos; Snorth, Clive, and Vanderschwiebel, Jedidiah. 2003. “Now is not the time on Sprockets when you control anything.” Upper Midwest CALL Proceedings, 18, pp. 43-50.

Varchar, Chakramurty, and Setnum(), Vista. 2008. “Bridging the CALL/response gap.” In Brothe and Sorvinteer (eds.) Classroom Discourse and the Lambda Function: Explorations in Montague Grammar and Learner-Centered Pedagogy, pp. 215-325. Hague: The Mouton.

1 As per our institution’s IRB guidelines, the anti-malarials were offered to all participants. All but one immediately declined, as did that student once it was explained that the tablets’ similarity to oxycontin was purely superficial.

2 For example, one student presented with behavior B (collapse), after prodding the NS a couple of times, proceeded to take the NS’s wallet. This may have been due to previous conditioning, however, as that student was in the MBA program.

On Dominance and Submissiveness in Cognitive Linguistics—Mongo Yalbag
Must Get Manuscripts/Fire Sale—Announcement from Panini Press
SpecGram Vol CLVII, No 2 Contents