L1 path encoding strategies in the L2?

Mila Dimitrova-Vulchanova, Liliana Martínez, Rik Eshuis

The NorwegianUniversity of Science and Technology


Despite the commonality in underlying conceptual structure, languages display a great variation in the encoding of spatial features and relations (cf. e.g., Levinson & Wilkins 2006, Bowerman & Choi 2001, Coventry and Garrod 2004). While in first language acquisition this does not seem a problem, L2 learners face a vast array of challenges in acquiring the appropriate meaning and use of spatial terms, prepositions being a notorious example, reflected both in comprehension and production tasks (cf. Lakkis & Malak 2000). The evidence of whether and to what extent L2 speakers acquire the target L2 thinking for speaking patterns(cf. Slobin 2001, 2004) is inconclusive. While Cadierno & Ruiz (2006) show no evidence of L1 transfer in the L2 way of describing motion events, Stam (2006) clearly demonstrates the presence of L1 thinking for speaking patterns combined with grammatical L2 production in exactly the same area. Clearly the emergence of target language thinking for speaking correlates strongly with the degree of L2 attainment, and in the light of recent inquiry into the upper limitations of the latter (cf. e.g. Birdsong 2007), an interesting question is whether target language spatial thinking is ever possible.

In order to check the degree of influence of first language strategies in the description of motion, we conducted 2 experiments. Experiment 1 was designed to establish the validity of the qualitative description of paths (QTC) (Van de Weghe et al. 2006) that are described as ‘away from’ and ‘towards’ in the linguistic (e.g., Jackendoff 1983) and psycholinguistic (e.g., Miller & Johnson-Laird 1976) literature. We conducted experiment 1 for Norwegian and Bulgarian (20 subjects each). Participants were shown videos of a red dot and a blue dot with the red dot moving at all times and asked to describe the movement of the red dot with respect to the blue dot. In experiment 2 we asked native speakers of Bulgarian (10 subjects) who were also advanced Norwegian L2 speakers to describe the same videos in Norwegian.At the outset the two languages differ in that, while Norwegian displays a distinction among towards, to, away from, from and via paths in the lexicon primarily in the range of prepositions available, Bulgarian makes this distinction in its verbal lexicon. The data from both languages revealed only a distinction between the basic vector orientations, e.g. to/towards vs. away/away from, while via paths were encoded primarily in dedicated verbs (e.g., krysse (cross), minavam/passere (pass)). In addition,convergent vs. divergent motion/path emerged ashighly salient. The L2 data from experiment 2 did not show any specific L1 transfer in patterns of thinking for speaking. Thus Bulgarian speakers of Norwegian as L2 used prepositions very much like the Norwegian L1 speakers and at the same rate across all conditions. One way of interpreting these findings is in terms of the so-called avoidance strategy which is well-attested in the L2 literature oras reflecting stages in the acquisition of spatial terms with prepositions coming first (as in e.g., L1 acquisition), and the (rich) verb lexicon coming later. However, the pattern of preposition usage was replicated also in the data from verb usage for the same two groups, suggesting that the Bulgarian L2 speakers of Norwegian are well under way in having acquired the Norwegian L1 patterns of thinking for speaking. In this talk we discuss our results in the light of possible explanations in terms of shared conceptual representations (cf. Clark 2001, among others).


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