Language Transfer: Types of Linguistic Errors Committed by Francophones Learning English as a Second Foreign Language Kornelia Choroleeva, Bulgaria Kornelia Choroleeva is a senior lecturer at the University of Food Technologies, Bulgaria. She is interested in ELT methods, English for Specific Purposes, translation theory and practice, and sociolinguistics. E-mail: email@example.com Menu Abstract Introduction Acquisition of multiple languages Categorization of learner errors Phonological interference Orthographic interference Lexical interference Grammatical interference Conclusions References Abstract The present paper draws the attention of English language teachers to a list of some recurrent learner errors without insisting on its being exhaustive. The analysis is based on the linguistic errors committed by francophones studying English as an L3 at an institution of higher education. The focus is on L2 transfer manifested in phonological, orthographic, lexical and grammatical interference. Discourse errors as well as grammatical errors such as choice of tense and mood are disregarded because they need a more thorough analysis. The paper was motivated by the learners’ communicative performance in class, the oral presentations delivered by them as well as by their written assignments and written examinations. Introduction In the period 1940s – 1960s language acquisition was studied on the basis of the systematic comparison of languages that was to delineate points of similarity and difference between native languages and target ones in order to improve pedagogy. The contrastive analysis hypothesis postulated the existence of positive transfer, resulting from similarity between languages, and negative transfer (or language interference), stemming from difference between languages. The serious limitations of the contrastive analysis hypothesis, which failed to predict some learner errors and predicted errors that did not materialize, were nevertheless useful in that they focused researchers’ attention on the explanation of learner errors rather than on their prediction. Precisely at that time Chomsky brought to the fore the notion of universal grammar claiming that human learning in general and language acquisition in particular are explainable in terms of an innate human capacity aiding the generation of an infinite number of sentence patterns. Hence, it turned out that language acquisition is a product of rule formation because learners form hypotheses about target language rules and test them in practice. Chomsky’s nativist theory paved the way for Error Analysis and it then became possible for Corder to point out “…that some at least of the strategies adopted by the learner of a second language are substantially the same as those by which a first language is acquired” (S. P. Corder, in J. C. Richards, 1992: 22). Corder also made a distinction between learner mistakes, “the selection of the wrong style, dialect or variety”, and learner errors, which “result in unacceptable utterances and appear as breaches of the code” (S. P. Corder, 1973: 259). Learner mistakes and errors came to be viewed from a more positive perspective, as being an indispensable device for learning with the help of which learners test hypotheses and correct them in order to acquire a language. The psychology of second language acquisition (SLA) was also studied from the vantage point of learner interlanguage, a notion referred to by Corder and Nemser as idiosyncratic dialect and approximative system, respectively. Interlanguage, more easily visualized as a continuum between the native (L1) and the target (L2) language, was defined by Selinker as a “psychological structure” which is “latent in the brain, activated when one attempts to learn a second language” (L. Selinker, in J. C. Richards, 1992: 33). Selinker also maintained the existence of five central processes belonging to this latent psychological structure which bear upon second language learning: language transfer, transfer of training, strategies of second language learning, strategies of second language communication, and overgeneralization of target language linguistic material. He claimed that the mastery of a second language largely depends on the degree of fossilization of linguistic items, rules, and subsystems in learner interlanguage. Acquisition of multiple languages For the purpose of the present paper, it is necessary to make a distinction between native language (L1) transfer and first foreign language (L2) transfer because the learners analyzed are francophones studying English as a second foreign language (L3) at a Bulgarian institution of higher education, i.e. the learners have some competence in more than one foreign language. This is best described as multilingual acquisition, i.e. “the acquisition of languages other than the first or second” (Cenoz, 1997). Cenoz (1997) points out that, although multilingual acquisition is often considered as a variation of bilingualism and SLA, it is in fact more complex than the latter because it depends not only on the factors and processes involved in SLA but also on the interactions between the multiple languages being learned. Moreover, “[t]here is also more diversity and complexity in multilingual acquisition […] if we consider other factors such as the age when the different languages are acquired, the environment in which each of the languages is acquired, or the typological distance among the languages involved” (Cenoz, 1997: 278). To be more specific, a variant of multilingual acquisition is third language acquisition which might be envisaged as a triad in which the interactions between L2 and L3 are reciprocal, whereas those between L1 and L2, L1 and L3 are probably best visualized as unidirectional if L1 is the learner’s native language because whatever influence L2 and L3 might exert on the mother tongue it might be less significant when compared to the influence of L1 on L2 and L3. L1 L2 L3 Diagram. Multilingual acquisition of languages Third language acquisition is influenced not only by the factors mentioned above but also by the order in which the three languages are studied. With SLA, there are only two possibilities: L1 and L2 are studied either in succession or simultaneously. With L3 acquisition, there are at least four possible acquisition orders: i) the three languages are acquired one after the other (L1→L2→L3); ii) L2 and L3 are acquired simultaneously after L1 (L1→Lx/Ly); iii) L1 and L2 are acquired simultaneously before L3 (Lx/Ly→L3), and iv) the learner is in simultaneous contact with the three languages (Lx/Ly/Lz) (Cenoz, 2000). It is worth establishing in subsequent research how the four acquisition orders affect the francophones’ learning process of English as an L3 as well as what relevance they have on L2 transfer. Categorization of learner errors Learner errors can be categorized in terms of various criteria. Interlingual errors are said to occur due to L1 interference, whereas intralingual errors are committed regardless of L1 (D. Larsen-Freeman and M. Long, 1991). Corder makes a distinction between expressive and receptive errors which are manifestations of expressive and receptive behaviour and depend upon knowledge of the “formation rules” of a language: “Inadequate knowledge of these rules will therefore show itself in both sorts of behaviour. But it is much easier to detect imperfect knowledge in the case of expressive behaviour. Expression leaves traces transient, but recordable, in the case of speech, permanent in the case of writing.” (Corder, 1973: 261). Moreover, Corder spells out the widespread “belief” among teachers that learners’ receptive abilities usually exceed their productive ones, which is probably due to the fact that failures in comprehension are easier to detect in expression rather than reception. As a result of this, it is difficult to establish the relations between expressive and receptive errors, so it might be that learners’ receptive abilities are actually overestimated. It is also possible to categorize learner errors on the basis of the linguistic levels testifying to their manifestation. Lee (1990), for instance, elaborates on the following classification of learner errors: ● Grammatical (morphosyntactic) errors, which stress the need for grammatical accuracy in both speech and writing, may hinder communication but errors at the sentence level “often reflect performance “mistakes” for which immediate teacher correction is not necessarily appropriate” (Lee, 1990: 59). ● Discourse errors are dependable upon the observance of the rules of speaking and writing and reflect learners’ cultural and pragmatic knowledge of language use. ● Phonologically-induced errors are manifested in wrong pronunciation and/or intonation; in the case of English studied as a foreign language such errors necessitate timely correction on the part of the teacher because vowel length, voiced and voiceless last consonants, word stress, etc. may have a meaning-differentiating function, as in live/leave, leave/leaf, exit (n.)/exit (v.), and so on. ● Lexical errors, in combination with errors belonging to the other linguistic levels, may also hamper communication and intelligibility. Phonological interference It is manifested in speaking and reading and is usually indicated by recourse to word stress, intonation and speech sounds typical of French which influence the acquisition of English. (Pyun (in Mehlhorn, 2007) claims that language learners’ interlanguage owes phonological knowledge to L1 rules, L2 (first foreign language) rules, L3 (foreign language being studied) rules, and “interrules”, the latter described as “bridges” between the already acquired languages and L3.) 1. The initial “h” is not pronounced, e.g.: hemisphere [`emisfiə] instead of [`hemisfiə], hotel [o`tel] instead of [həu`tel], etc. Occasionally, the non-initial [h] sound is also omitted, as in alcohol [`alkool]. In French, the letter “h” is always silent. In English, initial “h” is almost always pronounced although omitting the initial “h” sound the learner may occasionally “hit the target” unintentionally, as will be the case with the word hour [`auə], for instance, as well as with loanwords from French, e.g.: hors d’oeuvre. It must also be pointed out, however, that at times learners employ an overcompensation strategy pronouncing the initial “h” sound in English words featuring a silent [h], e.g.: hour [`hauə] instead of [`auə]. 2. The prefixes (or syllables) “in-“, “en-“ and “im-“ are sometimes pronounced as [a:n]/[a:m] or with a vowel intermediate between [a:] and [o:] which is usually nasalized. The markedly French pronunciation may be accompanied by a last syllable stress which is in accordance with the French fixed word stress pattern. As far as French is concerned, the major positions of nasalized vowels are two: at the end of words, preceding the consonants “n” and “m”, and before the consonants “n” and “m” when they are followed by another consonant (Mikhov, 1992). 3. The “g” sound in the “gn” consonant cluster is omitted when its pronunciation is expected, e.g.: significant [si`ŋifikənt] instead of [si`gŋifikənt]. In French, the letter “g” at the end of words is usually silent, with the exception of borrowings such as boomerang. The “gn” group of letters usually represents a palatalized [n] phone (Mikhov, 1992), as in montagne (“mountain”), so it is possible to speculate that learners subconsciously transfer this pronunciation pattern into English. 4. The “-ure” ending in polysyllabic words is pronounced as [juə], e.g.: literature [literə`tjuə] instead of [`litrit∫ə], again with a change of word stress. Compare, for example, with the pronunciation of the French voiture (“automobile, car”). 5. The “u” sound is omitted in the “ui” vowel cluster as well as in the [uə] diphthong, as represented by the “qui”/“que”/“qua” group of letters, e.g.: equipment [i`kipmənt] instead of [i`kuipmənt], frequently [`frikəntli] instead of [`frikuəntli], equal [`ikəl] instead of [`ikuəl]. This is probably due to the fact that in French orthography the letter combinations “qu” and “cqu” stand for a phoneme variant of [k] (Mikhov, 1992). 6. The final [s] or [z], represented by the letter “s”, are often not pronounced in reading exercises although students certainly see the graphic manifestation of these sounds. This happens no matter whether at the end of the word there is an accumulation of fricatives or not and the tendency applies to all parts of speech. In French, final “s” is usually not pronounced, as in trois, despite the many exceptions to the rule. While speaking, students tend to omit it as well but this is usually indicative of their lack of practice in communication or the lack of knowledge about the grammatical function of the English final “s” morpheme. 7. The “ch” grouping of letters is sometimes pronounced as [∫] instead of [t∫], e.g.: achieve [ə`∫i:v] instead of [ə`t∫i:v]. The influence of French is probably to blame in such cases taking into account the pronunciation of French words such as Chablis [∫ab`li], chose [`∫oz] (“thing”), etc. In French, [∫] is typically denoted by “ch” and less often by “sh” (Mikhov, 1992), the latter probably concerning loans from English or other languages. With chemistry pronounced as [`t∫emistri] instead of [`kemistri], however, the fault might be traced back to the influence of Bulgarian, considering the long-established practice in transliterating the Bulgarian letter “ч” (pronounced as [t∫]) in proper names as “ch”, as in the family name Chernev (Чернев). 8. English words demonstrating an obvious resemblance to French counterparts tend to be pronounced “the French way”, e.g.: different [dife`ro:n], where the stress falls on the last syllable featuring a nasalized vowel. (Compare with the French différent.) In this particular example the English word originates from the Latin differre (“to set apart, differ”) having influenced the Old French diferer. 9. [dʒ], when denoted by the letter “j”, is pronounced as [ʒ], as in the French jour, e.g.: subject [`sΛbʒekt] instead of [`sΛbdʒekt], major [`mejʒə:] instead of [`mejdʒə:], etc. 10. The “-us” ending is pronounced as [-jus] instead of [-əs], e.g.: syllabus [silə`bjus] instead of [`siləbəs], with a transfer of the stress on the last syllable. 11. The incorrect pronunciation of words featuring diphthongs may give rise to problems in intelligibility and communication, e.g.: [`brein] instead of [`brain] (compare brain/brine), etc. However, it is hard to generalize whether these phonologically-induced errors are due to native language interference, to first foreign language interference or simply to the lack of knowledge about the phonological rules of English. It seems plausible to mention that the “ail” combination of vowels in French tends to be pronounced as [ai], whereas “ais” at the end of words represents a short variant of the vowel [e], e.g.: vrais (“true”), travailler (“to work”). In English “ai” is usually pronounced as [ei], as in McCain, train, pertain, railway, etc. 12. The replacement of short vowels with long ones and vice versa may also alter the meaning of the word or expression, as in [`bri:d] instead of [`bred] (compare breed/bread), [`∫ip] instead of [`∫i:p] (compare ship/sheep), etc. 13. It also seems that francophone learners of English tend to have problems with the pronunciation of [ð] and [θ], graphically represented by “th” in words such as think, thought, there, then, etc. Since in French the tip of the tongue is not used, learners opt for the consonants [t] and [d] pronouncing then as [`den], think as [`tiŋk], etc. Doubtlessly, there are much more repetitive pronunciation patterns but it seems that the above-mentioned ones are most frequently manifested. Apart from them, however, one must also note the students’ tendency to be occasionally over-careful while reading English texts. This tendency is twofold. Students’ mechanical reproduction of the text at times ironically results in what might be termed an English pronunciation of French words. It is illustrated, firstly, in the pronunciation of French proper names mentioned in English texts, e.g.: Jules is pronounced as [`dʒu:ls] instead of [`ʒjul], Charles (as in Charles Perot) as [`t∫a:ls] instead of [`∫a:l], etc. Secondly, students might be misled by the obvious resemblance between English and French words, which happens when an English word is a borrowing from French. In such cases English may or may not have preserved the French pronunciation but students occasionally opt for an English or a French pronunciation depending on whether they have enough experience with the word in question. If they tend to pronounce different the “French” way, then they sometimes prefer the “English” pronunciation when this is the wrong choice. Such an example is chef which should be pronounced as [`∫ef], not as [`t∫ef]. This pronunciation error is probably due to the fact that students do not distinguish chef from chief, the latter being pronounced as [`t∫i:f]. Both words originate from French, the former being short for chef de cuisine (“head of the kitchen”) to be traced back to the Old French chief (“leader, ruler”), whereas the latter has preserved the spelling of Old French chief albeit with a meaning different from that of chef in Modern English. Orthographic interference It is manifested in writing and involves alteration of the spelling of words under the influence of French: ● The addition of an extra “-e” at the end of words, e.g.: closenesse instead of closeness, groupe instead of group, seniore instead of senior, Greeke instead of Greek, etc. in which case the English word acquires a silent “e”, as in make, wake, cake, and so on. It is worth pointing out that the silent “e” might also occur in a post-morphemic position, as in postegraduate. ● The adoption of a French suffix such as –ique, -eur, and –oire, e.g.: refrigeratoire and refrigerateur instead of refrigeration. Lexical interference It is manifested in speaking and writing and is represented by the borrowing of French words which may or may not be converted to sound more natural in English. Francophone learners of English tend to use French words in order to fill in the existing gaps in their knowledge of English vocabulary, e.g.: Belgique instead of Belgium, chimie instead of chemistry, Refrigerateur Engineering instead of Refrigeration Engineering, physique instead of physics (“the branch of science concerned with the study of properties and interactions of space, time, matter and energy”), etc. As regards the latter example, there exists the possibility that what is adopted is not the French word but the morpheme –ique although this seems a less plausible explanation. The English physics stems from the French word which, in turn, originates from the Latin physicus (“physical, physicist”). The problem with this example is twofold because the English language also keeps the word physique which means “the natural constitution, or physical structure, of a person” and in face-to-face interaction the replacement of one word with the other may lead to misunderstanding. (Firth and Wagner (in Seidlhofer, 2003) provide an example of lexically-induced misunderstanding between a Danish learner of English and a native speaker of English, illustrating the influence of the native language which is resorted to by the Danish learner as a communication strategy: he or she uses the Danish word historie instead of the English story and the native speaker wrongly assumes that what is meant is the subject history, whereas the Danish speaker simply wants to say that he or she likes reading stories.) Therefore, the English physique and the French physique are actually false friends (faux amis) because they differ in meaning although they look and sound the same. Language transfer in lexis is negative usually when a word form in one language is very similar or identical to a word form in another language but the similarity of form is actually superficial: such pairs of words are known as false friends/faux amis or false cognates (words in two different languages which are wrongly assumed to originate from a common root). Another instance of lexical interference is the transfer of function words such as prepositions, conjunctions, determiners, and pronouns, which most often happens unintentionally. The francophones under study tend to produce et instead of and and par instead of per or for. Another tendency demonstrated by francophone learners of English as a second foreign language, which has to do with the mastery of English lexis, deserves to be mentioned in passing simply as a point of curiosity. At the University of Food Technologies in Bulgaria the education in foreign languages aims at exposing students to specialized vocabulary depending on whether they are majoring in Food Technology, Food Engineering, or Tourism and Catering. Therefore, francophone students are expected to master basic food and cooking terms in both French and English classes. Meat-related terms are part of this specialized vocabulary and francophone learners of English most often than not fail to remember at least two English “meat-words”, namely mutton and beef. This is a striking fact considering the obvious resemblance between the English mutton and the French mouton, the English beef and the French boeuf, especially because francophone learners of English usually associate unfamiliar English words with “similar” French ones in order to find out what the former mean. The English language borrowed both terms – from the Old French moton and boef, respectively. The English teacher is left to wonder if the students’ failure to learn both terms is to be attributed to the fact that students are not acquainted with their French counterparts, which is probably not the case, because students usually manage to produce the term veal, also of French origin (cf. Old French veel, Modern French veau). Another explanation is probably the fact that the French “meat-words” in general, and mouton and boeuf in particular, also denote the animals providing the respective type of meat, whereas this is not the case with their English counterparts. Grammatical interference L2 influences L3 in terms of word order, use of pronouns and determiners, tense and mood: ● There are modifications to word order attributable to the influence of French, most often illustrated in the placement of adjectives after nouns in noun phrases. In French, most adjectives go after the word they modify. Such word order is not typical of English where few clichéd phrases denoting diplomatic ranks feature nouns in the primary position, e.g.: ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary (“a representative of the head of state”), envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary (“a diplomatic representative with plenipotentiary powers ranking below an ambassador”), and minister resident (“the lowest rank of full diplomatic mission chief”). Another instance is court-martial (“a military court for trials of armed forces personnel”). Examples of unnatural noun-phrase word order in English are chemistry inorganique and chemistry inorganic, produced instead of inorganic chemistry, in the first case the final result being an odd interlanguage variant combining an English noun with a French adjective. ● Concerning word order at the sentence level, francophone students tend to place the verb before the subject in English but this is probably due to native language interference because word order in Bulgarian is more flexible than that in both English and French where word order is relatively fixed and follows the subject/verb/object pattern. This leads to the generation of sentences of the type “Hostel” is a place where live students. Conclusions Despite the limitations of the three language acquisition research viewpoints outlined above, namely the contrastive analysis hypothesis, nativist theories, and the interlanguage hypothesis, the focus on learner errors is nevertheless useful to language teachers as a means of enhancing teaching methodology, provided that both teachers and linguists refrain from overgeneralization and the search for a unitary source of an error. An awareness of the types of errors learners tend to commit is necessary for language teachers so that they are able to properly and timely correct inappropriate and unacceptable utterances. Unfortunately, as regards language transfer, it is simply not possible for language teachers to be acquainted, even partially, with all world languages in order to identify unequivocally the source of errors. Therefore, regarding L1 and L2 transfer, teachers should probably try to at least prevent the so-called fossilization of interlanguage linguistic material while keeping in mind that the fossilization of one linguistic item or rule may bring about the fossilization of other linguistic items or rules, especially if learners feel that the errors they commit are no obstacle to communication. Concerning francophone learners of English as a second foreign language, it must be noted that even if orthographic interference is successfully dealt with, by means of dictations or plenty of written assignments, phonologically-induced interference and lexical interference posit graver problems to the teacher. On the whole, this is explainable in terms of the historical development of French and English. The former is part of the Romance subgroup of Indo-European languages, whereas the latter belongs to the Germanic branch. Since the two languages have been in contact at different stages of their development and for quite long periods of time, the origin of over 70% of the English vocabulary can be traced back to French and Latin, the ancestor of all Italic languages. At first glance, this simple historical fact suggests that francophones are not likely to encounter such difficulties in studying English as Bulgarians, for example. This is, however, a superficial idea because it turns out that similarities between languages may actually constitute differences in disguise. In other words, similarity of form does not always presuppose similarity of function, which seems to hold true for L2 transfer in phonology and lexis. As for grammatical interference, it has not been analyzed in depth and it is precarious to generalize although the author’s teaching experience suggests that problems in this respect are minor. 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Long, (1991) An Introduction to Second Language Acquisition Research, Longman Lee, N., (1990) Notions of “Error” and Appropriate Corrective Treatment, Hong Kong Papers in Linguistics and Language Teaching 13 Mehlhorn, G., (2007) From Russian to Polish: Positive Transfer in Third Language Acquisition, 16th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Saarbrucken, pp. 1745-1748, at <http://www.icphs2007.de/conference/Papers/1709/1709.pdf> Mikhov, N., (1992) A Short French Grammar, Naouka i Izkustvo Richards, J. C. (ed.), (1992) Error Analysis. Perspectives on Second Language Acquisition, Longman Seidlhofer, B. (ed.), (2003) Controversies in Applied Linguistics, Oxford University Press The Humanising Testing course can be viewed here. The Teaching English for University Lecturers course can be viewed here.