The impetus for the present study stems from the fact
that English prepositional usage is highly anomalous
and frequently a matter of collocational competence
and experience rather than logic, which makes prepositions
hard to learn. Long after EFL students have achieved
a high level of proficiency in English, they still
struggle with prepositions. Moreover, prepositions
are one of the most difficult items to be acquired
in English, partly because of the complexity of the
English prepositional system which allows one preposition
to have several meanings and functions, and also because
many times the English prepositional system functions
differently from the Portuguese system.
2. Overview of the Brazilian Corpus
of Learner English (Bricle)
The rationale behind creating a computerized corpus
of learner English is to make use of advances in applied
linguistics and computer technology to carry out a
thorough investigation of the interlanguage of Brazilian
Portuguese English learners at advanced level.
Bricle is being compiled following the guidelines
suggested in the ICLE1 (Granger 1992, 1998), which
comprises corpora from 18 different countries. The
data collection for Bricle started in May 1999, and
currently (October 2002) the corpus contains 33,954
running words, or 17% of the total planned, represented
by 67 essays collected at PUC/SP, UFU, UNICSUL and
When complete, the corpus will contain a minimum of
200.000 words representing approximately 400 essays
of 500 words written by at least 200 students (a student
cannot contribute with more than 1000 words).
Comparability is one of the threads running through
the current project, and thus, the learning population
meets the following criteria:
a) Type of learner: EFL - not ESL;
b) age: adults (undergraduate university students
c) stage of learning: advanced
d) task: argumentative essay writing
All relevant biographical information - such as
years of English at school, prolonged stay
in an English-speaking
country, knowledge of other foreign languages
- is encoded in a learner profile questionnaire
learners were asked to fill in.
Some of the argumentative topics which were suggested
to the students can be seen below:
(1) The prison system is outdated. No civilized society
should punish its criminals: it should rehabilitate
(2) Most university degrees are theoretical and do
not prepare students to the real world. They are therefore
of very little use.
(3) Crime does not pay.
(4) There is no place for censorship in the modern
(5) A man/woman's financial reward should be commensurate
with their contribution to the society they live in.
3. Contrasting the Portuguese and the
English prepositional systems
It can be argued that prepositions in Portuguese are
invariable words which link two terms and whose role
is to establish among these terms a relation of place,
manner, time, possession, means, cause, instrument,
etc. For exemple:
Barbara mora em
O carro do Leo (ownership)
Estudam com entusiasmo (manner)
Eles falaram sobre inflação (subject)
Morreu de fome (cause)
Surfei com eles (company)
It is also worth
noting that some Portuguese prepositions may also correspond
to more than one relationship or function or that the
same use can be expressed by different prepositions.
For instance, illustrating the first case, the preposition
a can be used to indicate:
Place: Eu vou à praia.
Time: Eu estudo à noite.
Finality: Eles foram às compras.
Price: Ele vendeu o barco a R$ 700.00
In the same way
the preposition em can indicate:
está em casa.
Time: Nós chegaremos a praia em duas horas.
Manner: Vivemos em paz.
Price: A prancha foi avaliada em R$ 250.00.
Finality: Vou pedir ela em casamento.
By comparing the English and Portuguese prepositional
systems one may observe that the semantic roles established
by grammarians to determine the function of a preposition
can sometimes find correspondence in both languages.
For example, the preposition em in Portuguese can
be used to indicate place, time, manner, price, finality,
cause, etc. This preposition can relate to several
forms in English: at, in, on but among them we are
going to find some of the same categories as the
Portuguese form, e.g. in can indicate place, time,
manner; at can also denote place, time, price; and
on may also imply place, time, and manner. Thus,
we can argue that there is an overlap of some prepositions
(forms and semantic roles).
There are some prepositions in English which bear
a one-to-one correspondence in Portuguese e.g. with,
without, beside, during, and against. On the other
hand, one English prepositions may correspond to
two or more forms in Portuguese, or one form in Portuguese
may correspond to more than two in English.