Studies on Transfer in Second Language Acquisition

Topics: Language education, Second language acquisition, Language acquisition Pages: 13 (9276 words) Published: September 29, 2014
Studies on Transfer in Second Language Acquisition

Shaozhong Liu
Guangxi Normal University, Guilin, 541004, China

Abstract: Transfer is a pervasive term and this has led to diverse interpretations and research practices of it. This paper reviewed the related literature on transfer studies in second language acquisition, linguistic studies and non-linguistic. It also made a survey about approaches in transfer studies, native speakers’ attitudes toward transfer, and transfers made by Chinese learners of English. It was argued that transfer research evolved from a linguistic-to- non-linguistic path, and there is a necessity in the current trend to shift from the former to the latter. Keywords: transfer, linguistic transfer, pragmatic transfer, second language acquisition

1. Defining transfer

Transfer, derived from the Latin word “transferre”, means “to carry”, “to bear” or “to print, impress or otherwise copy (as a drawing or engraved design) from one surface to another”(Webster’s Third New World International Dictionary, 1986). So to speak, when we say “technology transfer”, we mean the transfer or carry-over of technology from one owner to another. Transfer can also mean “the carry-over or generalization of learned responses from one type of situation to another”, especially “the application in one field of study or effort of knowledge, skill, power, or ability acquired in another” (Webster’s Third New World International Dictionary, 1986). The use of “transfer” in “linguistic transfer” is such an example. By linguistic transfer, we mean what the learners carry over to or generalize in their knowledge about their native language (NL) to help them learn to use a target language (TL). Here transfer does not indicate whether what is carried over is bad or good. This meaning from the dictionary shows that transfer is a neutral word in origin and nature. Linguistics concerns, in overall, with the static structures within a language system. Viewed from the TL grammatical rules, certain NL-based linguistic transfers are found to coincide with linguistic errors. In this way, NL-based linguistic transfers are divided into two broad types, positive and negative. Those NL-based uses that do not lead to linguistic errors are labeled as positive transfer, whereas those that lead to errors, negative transfer. In second language classroom teaching, a positive linguistic transfer is generally not attacked, but a negative linguistic transfer, almost to all instructors, is definitely not recommended for the learners, since it is erroneous. Pragmatics, a branch of linguistics which studies how people interpret and produce meaning in a specific context (Leech, 1983; Liu, 2000), also claims an interest in transfer. For pragmaticians, they are interested in finding out in what way NL-based transfers influence the learners in comprehending and performing a speech act in a TL and whether such transfers are appropriate in the context. Apparently, pragmatics diverges from linguistics in interpreting transfer in that it has maintained the neutral sense or natural attribute of transfer. Since pragmatics aims at exploring the appropriateness of speech that is free from right-wrong linguistic grammar, everything under pragmatic investigation is correct, grammatically speaking. In literature to date, in pragmatics-oriented studies of transfers, interests and endeavors have been attached to the finding out of the differences or deviations between these divergent forms from the TL and whether these deviant forms are appropriate, from the angle of TL speakers. An example to illustrate this point is the Japanese learners’ overuse of the expression “I am sorry” in conversations. It was reported that there are many cases in which Japanese students used this expression which is actually not needed in English, since to English speakers, the expression is used only for an apology. This indicates the learners fall back on the...

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