This article is concerned with the acquisition of sociolinguistic variation, which is central to native speaker competence. It explores the acquisition of variable quotative marking within the local Learner English ecology in a cohort of German students. The data consist of 809 instances of quotation produced by 45 speakers, all of whom are currently completing their bachelor's and master's degrees and who have different exposure types to English spoken in a naturalistic context. The authors focus on the acquisition of the constraints that govern the variable use of the innovative quotative form be like, which is not formally taught in classes of English as a foreign language. The data suggest that German learners of English with an extensive record of face-to-face communications with native speakers are rather adept at picking up on the grammar that governs the quotative system and innovative be like more specifically. Overall, the study contributes to the discussion of what is possible in the second-language acquisition of the variable grammar, while exploring the sociolinguistic and cognitive mechanisms that shape the formation of nonnative Englishes worldwide.

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