The role of L1 English and L2 HIndi in L3 Spanish acquisition : a study of pragmatic transfer in request and apology situations

Shah, Mansi Jagdeep
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Transfer theory proposes that language learners rely on knowledge of a previous language to acquire a new language and that they base their learning on past experiences and information. The assumption is that there is transfer of knowledge from adult learners’ L1 to their L2 (Odlin 1989; Kecskes and Papp 2000; Koike and Flanzer 2004). This study analyses the transfer of pragmatic knowledge in request and apology situations from L1 or L2 to L3: here he L1 is English, the L2 is Hindi, the national language of India and the L3 is Spanish. There are three groups of participants in the study: high school students of Spanish in the U.S. who are heritage speakers of Hindi; high school students of Spanish whose L1 is English; and high school students in India whose L1 is Hindi. This study investigates language acquisition patterns of Hindi- and Englishspeaking bilingual students studying Spanish and compares them to those of native English-speaking students learning Spanish to determine if the students’ knowledge of Hindi affects their production of Spanish speech acts. It specifically targets the transfer of pragmatic knowledge in request and apology situations from L1 English or L2 Hindi to L3 Spanish. The results demonstrate that learners perceived a great degree of typological distance between Hindi and Spanish. This perceived distance might be the reason why only scant evidence of transfer of pragmatic knowledge from the L2 of the bilingual speakers to their L3 is evident. However, a greater degree of transfer from the learners’ L1 English to their L3 Spanish was demonstrated by the heritage Hindi speakers. The limited amount of transfer from L2 Hindi to L3 Spanish that is evidenced can be attributed to the fact that Hindi heritage speakers have lived in the US longer than they have lived (if ever) in India, which has led them to be affected by U.S. culture. A strong desire for assimilation, which is often expressed by high school students, could also be an important factor leading to more transfer from learner’s L1 English to their L3 Spanish as they would probably reject their heritage language Hindi in favor of their native or adopted language, English.