Coming of age in L3 initial stages transfer models: Deriving developmental predictions and looking towards the future

International Journal of Bilingualism

Aims:Over the past decade in particular, formal linguistic work within L3 acquisition has concentrated on hypothesizing and empirically determining the source of transfer from previous languages—L1, L2 or both—in L3 grammatical representations. In view of the progressive concern with more advanced stages, we aim to show that focusing on L3 initial stages should be one continued priority of the field, even—or especially—if the field is ready to shift towards modeling L3 development and ultimate attainment.Approach:We argue that L3 learnability is significantly impacted by initial stages transfer, as such forms the basis of the initial L3 interlanguage. To illustrate our point, the insights from studies using initial and intermediary stages L3 data are discussed in light of developmental predictions that derive from the initial stages models.Conclusions:Despite a shared desire to understand the process of L3 acquisition in whole, inclusive of offering developmental L3 theories, we argue that the field does not yet have—although is ever closer to—the data basis needed to effectively do so.Originality:This article seeks to convince the readership of the need for conservatism in L3 acquisition theory building, whereby offering a framework on how and why we can most effectively build on the accumulated knowledge of the L3 initial stages in order to make significant, steady progress.Significance:The arguments exposed here are meant to provide an epistemological base for a tenable framework of formal approaches to L3 interlanguage development and, eventually, ultimate attainment.