L1 Transfer in L2 Acquisition of the There-Insertion Construction by Mandarin EFL Learners

Document Type: Research Paper

Author

School of Foreign Languages, Huaiyin Normal University, Huai’an City, Jiangsu, China

Abstract

This study examined the role of the native language (L1) transfer in a non-native language (L2) acquisition of the there-insertion construction at the syntax-semantics interface. Specifically, the study investigated if Mandarin EFL learners would make overgeneralization errors in the situation where an L1 argument structure constitutes a superset of its L2 counterpart. Verbs of existence and appearance (EAA) such as exist, appear are possible with the there-insertion construction in which the single argument remains in the underlying direct object position. In Mandarin, some verb classes also allow their single arguments to appear in the verb-subject (VS) order. For example, VEA and verbs of monadic change of state (COS) (die, escape) are compatible with the VS order. Some verbs of manner of motion (MOM) (run, swim) are also permissible with the construction. Seventy upper-intermediate and advanced L1 Mandarin EFL learners and 30 native English speakers participated in an acceptability judgement test, the results of which show that L1 Mandarin EFL learners acquired native-like knowledge of the there-insertion construction with verbs of EAA, but they have difficulties recognizing the unacceptability of the there-insertion sentences with verbs of COS and MOM. Individual results by subjects show that it is possible to recover from L1 transfer. Mandarin EFL learners start to unlearn the overgeneralization errors with MOM verbs by drawing on the semantic properties. The experimental results provide further evidence for the previous findings suggesting that the L2 argument structure acquisition is constrained by L1, and the recovery from L1 transfer is also possible.

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