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B. A.

in English – University of Belgrano

Acquisition of first and second language

Pampillo, Soledad - Duarte, Analía


Group members: Bozzani, Ana Laura

Cruells, Nancy C.
Gómez Dova, Valeria
Moix, Jorgelina
University of Belgrano Acquisition of first and second
B. A. in English

Bozzani-Cruells-Gómez Dova-Moix
University of Belgrano Acquisition of first and second
B. A. in English


Hardly anyone will argue that the more related a language is to any
previously acquired language, the less time it takes learners to be able to
understand a spoken or written message in that language. At the initial
stage of learning, the foreign language learner largely depends on
establishing equivalence between new items and the ones already existing
in his memory store. Crosslinguistic equivalence between L1 and L2/L3, as
the learner perceives it, provides the basis for his learning of new items,
and where such equivalence can be easily and naturally established,
transfer will be inevitable. In the following pages, we will deal with two
major factors that interact in the determination of transfer: 1) the learner’s
perception of L1-L2/L3 distance and 2) the degree of markedness among
different language parameters. Through the analysis of the learning
experience of Japanese students of L2 English and L3 Spanish, it is the
purpose of this paper to show that the more similar linguistic structures in
languages are, the greater the likelihood of transfer there will be.

Historically, language transfer has been defined differently in

different theories of L2 acquisition. On the one hand, Behaviourist views
and the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH) considered transfer in
terms of habit formation. On the other hand, the minimalist position, which
appeared as a rejection to the CAH, tried to diminish the importance of the
L1 and to emphasize the contribution of universal processes of language
learning, such as hypothesis-testing. However, it is now widely accepted
that the influence of the learner’s L1 cannot adequately be accounted for
in terms of habit formation. Nor is transfer simply a matter of interference
or of falling back on native language. Nor is it just a question of the
influence of the learner’s L1, as other previously acquired languages can
also have effect. Odlin offers this definition of transfer: “Transfer is the
influence resulting from the similarities and differences between the TL

Bozzani-Cruells-Gómez Dova-Moix
University of Belgrano Acquisition of first and second
B. A. in English
and any other language that has been previously (and perhaps
imperfectly) acquired.” (1989:27)

In this paper, similarly to Odlin’s definition and in accordance to

Brown’s opinion, transfer will be viewed as “the interaction of previously
acquired linguistic and/or conceptual knowledge with the present learning
event to facilitate a new language learning task.”(1993:117). Transfer can
act as a language facilitator through general similarities between
languages that “influence language development even in the absence of
specific overt similarity.”(Gass.1996) When there is a large number of
similarities, the learner is free to concentrate on other aspects of the
grammar. In contrast, it could also be seen as a constraint on the
hypothesis that the learner makes about the TL. Such constraints are
strongly influenced by previous knowledge, which

includes not only knowledge of the native language or other languages

known, but also whatever is acquired of the TL, which is usually referred to
as interference.

Learners’ expectations about the TL are included in this category of

prior knowledge as well. The learner’s perception of similarities or
dissimilarities between the TL and prior knowledge has an important role
in the process of decision-making and determines transferable elements.
Native speakers consider some parts of their native language as
infrequent or irregular (language specific) because they are highly marked
and thus, less transferable than frequent and regular forms. The latter,
also called language neutral, are more likely to be transferred. This
language neutrality or language specificity can be expressed in terms of a
continuum which interacts with Kellerman’s idea of psychotypology
(language distance as perceived by learners).(1988)

It is this distance that largely resolves how relevant a learner’s prior

knowledge is to the learning of another language. The smaller the

Bozzani-Cruells-Gómez Dova-Moix
University of Belgrano Acquisition of first and second
B. A. in English
distance, the more relevant this prior knowledge is to the learner. The
learner of a related language already knows something about the structure
of this language. Taking into account Corder’s view, we might be able to
claim that if the previously learned knowledge is similar in form to the TL,
the learner will pass more rapidly along the developmental continuum
than if it differs.

In addition to language distance, another influential constraint on

transfer is that the transferability of different features depends on their
degree of markedness. That is why, a theory of transfer that incorporates
markedness can account for the evidence that shows that a given feature
(z) is transferred in one direction (from language x to y) but not
necessarily in the other (from language y to x). (Ellis 1995)

A markedness definition could be found in Chomsky’s theory of UG.

This distinguishes the rules of a language between core and periphery. The
core is the highly restricted set of grammatical principles and parameters
specified in the theory of UG; the former are invariant, absolute universals
and unmarked; whereas the latter are those properties of grammar that
are necessary but have varying realizations which can be marked or
unmarked (e.g. non-pro-drop vs. pro-drop). The periphery consists of
language particular phenomena outside the domain of the core, which is

Given the current controversies concerning the role and influence of

previous learned languages in the acquisition of a new language,
parameter theory may provide a theoretical basis for our understanding of
language transfer due to the fact that parameters can be set differently for
different languages, i.e. the more equally marked parameters are, the
more positive transfer there will be.

Bozzani-Cruells-Gómez Dova-Moix
University of Belgrano Acquisition of first and second
B. A. in English
It has been suggested that markedness can help to overcome one of
the major problems of the CAH, namely that not all the linguistic
differences between the NL and the TL result in learning difficulty.
Markedness can be used to help predict which differences in languages
lead to difficulty. Thus, markedness has helped to restore transfer theory.

To support this approach we have analysed the way one of our

Japanese learners of L2 English acquires L3 Spanish, providing evidence on
how language distance and parameter setting work.

In general, Japanese is seen as linguistically and psycholinguistically

more distant to English and Spanish, which are considered closer. Thus, it
is inevitable for this Japanese Spanish learner to transfer most phonology,
lexis, morphology and discourse features from his related L2 English.

As regards markedness, we could describe the different parameter

setting by means of the following examples:

1- Head Parameter, covers the position of complements within phrases.

English and Spanish have a head-first setting while Japanese has a
head-last one.

NP I have fear of the result

Tengo miedo del resultado
Tensu ga kowai desu (result of fear have)

PP in the classroom
en la clase
kyoshitsu de (classroom in)

VP I love Cook’s book

Amo el libro de Cook

Bozzani-Cruells-Gómez Dova-Moix
University of Belgrano Acquisition of first and second
B. A. in English
Kukku no hon ga suki desu (Cook of book love)

2- Governing Category Parameter, accounts for binding relations. In

English and Spanish anaphors must be bound within their governing
category. Whereas, in Japanese anaphors must be bound within the
whole sentence.

The teacher believes the student i hates herself i

La profesora cree que la alumna i se i odia.

Sensei i wa seito ga zibun i-o nikunde iru te. (teacher i student self i

hates thinks)

In view of the results, we noticed that the learner referred back to

his L2 English for the setting of Head Parameter and Governing Category
Parameter since they are equal to Spanish setting. However, it is
important to highlight that he would resort to the Japanese setting for the
Pro-drop Parameter bearing in mind that Spanish and Japanese share the
same parameter setting.

To sum up, the role of language transfer has changed throughout the
years to accept the fact that previous language knowledge cannot be
separated from the general theory of “second” language acquisition. On
the basis of the perceived distance and degree of markedness between
the different languages (L1/LN), learners decide whether to go ahead and
transfer those items that they perceive to be closer and equally marked,
which is the case of our Japanese students who are learning Spanish (L3)
via transfer of some aspects of their L2 English. It is through this
interaction between distance and markedness that congruence between
L1 and L2/L3 allows learners to see relevant TL features and transfer them
affecting production and comprehension of any TL.

Bozzani-Cruells-Gómez Dova-Moix
University of Belgrano Acquisition of first and second
B. A. in English


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University of Belgrano Acquisition of first and second
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Retreat from: (Japanese Grammar)

Bozzani-Cruells-Gómez Dova-Moix