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Cross-Linguistic Influence

Cross-linguistic influence is a term proposed in the 1980s to include such phenomena as “transfer”, “interference”, “avoidance”, “borrowing” and L2-related aspects of language loss’ (Sharwood Smith & Kellerman, 1986, p. 1).

Cenoz, Hufeison, and Jessner (2001, p. 7) have discussed the importance of linguistic distance as a factor in L3 acquisition as follows: ‘because the acquisition of languages that are closer to the LI or L2 can potentially facilitate the process of acquisition but can also favor code-mixing.

Different combinations of languages can be closer or more distant than others, as explored previously. As the authors above stated, although English is typologically a Germanic language, historical events have resulted in a large number of loanwords from Latin and Romance languages.

Ytsma (2001, p. 15) explains that ‘the linguistic difference between languages belonging to the same family will be smaller than the distance between languages belonging to different branches’.

Linguistic distance has important educational implications for choosing an appropriate language to learn, as the similarity between any combination of LI, L2 and L3 can affect the optimum amount of exposure to the different languages in order to achieve the highest level of proficiency.

Linguistic distance also has an effect on the methods of code-switching and cross-linguistic influence used by the learners of L3. Hoffman and Widdicombe (1999, p. 2) use the term ‘code-switching’ to ‘refer to a variety of instances in the individual’s speech which reflect the use, or activation, of more than one linguistic system during a single discourse event’.

Learners tend to use the LI or L2 that is typologically closer to their L3 when borrowing terms from either one, and it is of utmost importance to ensure that all learners are made linguistically aware of the role their LI or L2 may play in this development.

Closely related to the area of linguistic distance/typology of language is the issue of cross-linguistic transfer. The linguistic distance between the languages involved can affect the magnitude of the transfer between languages (Cenoz & Genesee, 1998, p. 21). A number of researchers have argued that the strength of transfer between languages depends on the linguistic distance between the varieties concerned, and that transfer occurs more easily between closely related languages.

Sigokukira (1993, p. 10) points out that there is general agreement among SLA researchers that transfer, both positive and negative, is more likely to take place from a language which is related to the new foreign language being learned. Lado (1961, p. 23) describes transfer as the language learner transferring the habit system of his native language to the foreign tongue.

When transfer occurs, according to Lado (1961, p. 23-24), the learner produces the sounds and sentence pattern and, in general, entire structure of his native language in the foreign tongue, except those few units and elements he has under his control. Some of these units and patterns will function satisfactorily, and some will not.

With regard to vocabulary, Lado has found that the student will tend to transfer his vocabulary habits to the foreign language. ‘He will transfer meanings, forms, and distribution of the lexical units of his native language‘.

Sometimes, these units operate successfully in the foreign language because they are alike in some manner, and this transfer facilitates language learning. However, it often happens that these units will not operate successfully in the foreign language, even though it seems that they might. This is when interference from the native language occurs.

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