Directionality and complexity of L1 transfer in L2 acquisition: Evidence from L2 Chinese discourse

11 May 2020

Abstract First language (L1) transfer is a common phenomenon in second language (L2) acquisition. However, it will be argued in this article that although there are indeed pervasive influences of learners’ L1 in L2 acquisition, L1 transfer is not everywhere and it can be directional. We compare data from Chang’s (2001b. Discourse effects on the second language acquisition of English and Chinese dative structures. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i at Manoa PhD dissertation, 2004. Discourse effects on EFL learners’ production of dative constructions. Journal of Kaohsiung University of Applied Sciences 33. 145–169.) studies of Chinese-speaking learners of English with data of our study of English-speaking learners of Chinese to examine whether their L2 English discourse and L2 Chinese discourse are equally influenced by their L1 discourse rules. We focus on learners’ answers to wh-questions with a double object construction or a prepositional object construction. The results demonstrate that L1 transfer takes place in Chinese-speaking learners’ L2 English discourse but not in English-speaking learners’ L2 Chinese discourse. This directionality of L1 transfer is accounted for on the basis of computational complexity of linguistic structures involved and on an economical consideration.