SLRF 2009

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Variablility in L2 Acquisition Across L1 Language Backgrounds

Abstract:

Elicited imitation (EI) has provided helpful insight into the process of language acquisition and language testing. EI is an oral test in which the subject hears a string of words, forms a cognitive representation, and then produces a string of words according to that representation (Bley-Vroman & Chaudron 1994, 245). EI theory asserts that a person’s ability to reproduce a sentence is connected with that person’s knowledge of the structure of the language. Similarity between English and a learner’s L1 differs greatly depending on the L1, and there is still much research to be done on specific English structures that are most problematic for different L1 speakers. Odlin (1989) explains that similarities and differences between an L1 and L2 affect the acquisition of the L2. There is research on general structures that are problematic for specific L1s, such as plurality and negation (Romaine, 2003), but precise syntactic and morphological structures of English most problematic for different L1 language families have not been compared and contrasted through one test.

Syntactic and morphological structures are highly problematic for English language learners (DeKeyser & Goldschneider, 2005). This paper reports on efforts to analyze EI data from over 1000 ESL participants to determine the most problematic syntactic and morphological structures for each group. Each participant has taken at least one EI test, which focused on syntactic and morphological structures such as tense, aspect, modality, and phrasal structure. We grouped participants according to their L1 language family (Britannica, 2008), and discovered different syntactic and morphological structures that were most problematic for each group. We compared the most problematic and simple structures from each group to discover differences and consistencies across L1 language families.

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[Malena Weitze, Jeremiah McGhee, and Dan Dewey]