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A Bidirectional Study of Learners of English and Japanese

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2009

Alison Gabriele*
University of Kansas
*Address correspondence to: Alison Gabriele, Department of Linguistics, University of Kansas, 1541 Lilac Lane, Blake Hall 427, Lawrence, KS 66044-3177; e-mail:


Previous studies have shown that it is particularly difficult for second language (L2) learners to overcome the effects of transfer when they need to unlearn specific aspects of the native language in the absence of explicit input that indicates which properties of the first language (L1) are ruled out by the L2 grammar (Inagaki, 2001; Westergaard, 2003; White, 1991a, 1991b). The present study focuses on the effects of transfer in the domain of aspectual semantics through an investigation of the interpretation of the present progressive in L2 English and the imperfective marker te-iru in L2 Japanese and examines whether L2 learners can rule out interpretations available in the L1 but not in the L2. Japanese learners of English (n = 101), English native-speaker controls (n = 23), English learners of Japanese (n = 31), and Japanese native-speaker controls (n = 33) completed an interpretation task in English or Japanese. The results show that the L2 Japanese learners were more successful than the L2 English learners in both acquiring the semantics of the imperfective in the L2 and ruling out interpretations available only in the L1. It is proposed that successful unlearning depends on both the grammatical complexity of the semantic target in the L2 and the transparency of the input cues available to the learner.

Research Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

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