Annual Review of Applied Linguistics


What Do We (Think We) Know About Formulaic Language? An Evaluation of the Current State of Play

Alison Wray


This article briefly summarizes key developments in formulaic language research over the past 5 years, before exploring certain assumptions typically made, regarding the coherence of formulaicity as a phenomenon, the significance of frequency as a property, and the location of subtypes of formulaic language along various continua. It is argued that we do not yet have the full measure of how different features associated with formulaicity fit together. The challenge lies in reconciling the range of evidence types within an explanation that is rooted not only in usage itself, but in the underlying motivations that determine usage.

Alison Wray ( is a research professor of language and communication at Cardiff University, Wales, UK. She has published widely on formulaic language, addressing theoretical, evolutionary, and applied linguistic topics including second language acquisition and, most recently, formulaic language in Alzheimer's care. Her 2002 book Formulaic language and the lexicon (Cambridge) won the 2003 book prize of the British Association for Applied Linguistics. She published a further monograph, Formulaic language: pushing the boundaries (Oxford) in 2008. She also has research interests in the nature and development of social science research expertise and in professional coaching for academics.