Phonetic and syntactic transfer errors in the L2 English of Basque-Spanish bilingual subjects


Abstract  Even though the importance of errors in the second language (L2) learning process was first acknowledged by Corder (1967, 1974), Error Analysis is still a very productive research area in the field (Karra, 2006). Errors reflect gaps in a learner’s knowledge, and shed light on the development of the interlanguage system. Two types of errors can be distinguished: intralingual vs. interlingual. The former occur in the speech of all L2 learners, irrespective of their first language (L1), as a consequence of the development of the new linguistic system. The latter reflect L1 influence and may vary depending on the learners’ L1 linguistic system. In this paper we will focus on a variety of transfer errors at the levels of phonetics and syntax in the interlanguage of Basque-Spanish bilinguals learning English in a formal context. In this respect, this paper is of special interest since it presents data from the same subjects on these two language dimensions taken jointly. We have gathered data from 10 fourteen year-old Basque/Spanish bilinguals who have been learning English for 7 years in a formal school context in the Basque Country. Participants were recorded while telling a story in English and their oral productions were analysed so as to discover phonetic and syntactic transfer errors. Four different phenomena were examined at the level of phonetics – (i) replacement of novel phonemes by L1 sounds, (ii) lack of aspiration in stop sounds, (iii) spirantisation of stop sounds, and (iv) closure of fricative sounds. At the level of syntax three different features were covered – (i) use of null subjects, (ii) existence of null objects, and (iii) production of null determiners. Analyses showed that learners display L1 effects in the acquisition of both English phonetics and syntax, though phonetic transfer errors were far more frequent than syntactic ones (69.26% vs. 16.67%). This finding seems to indicate that 7 years of exposure to English are not sufficient to eradicate the influence of the L1/s over the phonetic and syntactic interlanguage systems. A special emphasis is placed on the pedagogical implications of the results. It is suggested that negative L1 transfer would be minimised if certain educational measures were adopted, such as (1) the enhancement of both teachers’ and learners’ linguisitic awareness towards some of the interlanguage processes examined in the paper, (2) the inclusion and in-depth analysis of contrastive linguistics and language acquisition topics in teacher training programmes, and (3) learners’ participation in courses where the target language is used in a more natural, communicative way. Corder, Stephen P. 1967. The Significance of Learners’ Errors”. International Review of Applied Linguistics. 5, 161-170. Corder, Stephen, 1974. Error Analysis. In Allen, John. P. B. / Corder, Stephen P. (eds) Techniques in Applied Linguistics (The Edinburgh Course in Applied Linguistics 3). London: Oxford University Press, 122-154. Karra, M. (2006). Second Language Acquisition: Learners’ Errors and Error Correction in Language Teaching. Proz. The Translator’s Workplace.

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