Chapter 8. Cross Linguistic Influence
and Learner language
Chapter 8. (pp. 207-243)
Brown, D. H. (2000). Principles of language learning and
teaching. (4th ed.). White Plains, NY: Addison
Wesley Longman, Inc.
Prepared by: Aníbal Muñoz Claudio
Course: EDUC 8130
Professor: Dr. María A. Irizarry
Date: March 28, 2006
The contrastive analysis
hypothesis ( CAH)
From the CAH to CLI
(cross-linguistic influence)
Markedness and universal
Learner language
Error analysis
Mistakes and errors
Errors in error analysis
Identifying and describing
errors (chart)
Sources of errors
Interlingual and
intralingual transfers
Context of learning
Stages of learner language
Variability in learner
Form-focused instruction
Error treatment
A model for error treatment
(in the classroom)
The contrastive analysis hypothesis
Deeply rooted in the behavioristic and structuralist
approaches, the CAH claimed that the principal barrier to L2
is the interference of L1system with the 2nd system.
A scientific- structural analysis will develop a taxonomy of
linguistic contrasts between them which will enable the
linguist to predict the difficulties a learner would encounter.
Clifford Prator (1967) captured the essence of the
grammatical hierarchy (Stockwell, Bowen, and Martin,
1965) in six categories of difficulty –it was applicable to both
grammatical and phonological features of language.
Most of the examples are taken from English and Spanish
Six categories of hierarchy of difficulty
(a native English speaker learning Spanish as L2)
Level 0. No difference or
contrast is present between the
two languages. The learner can
simply transfer a sound,
structure, or lexical item from
the native language to the target
Level 1 –coalescence two items
in the native language become
coalesced into essentially one
item in the target language.
Example: English 3rd p.
possessives require gender
distinction (his/her) and in
Spanish they do not (su)
Level 2 Underdifferentiation –an
item in the native language is
absent in the target language.
The learner must avoid that item.
Example: (adjectives in Spanish
require gender (alto/alta)
Level 3 Reinterpretation –an
item that exists in the native
language is given a new shape or
distribution. Example: new
phonemes require new
distribution of speech
articulators -/r/, etc.
Level 4. Overdifferentiation –a new item entirely,
bearing any similarity to the native language item,
must be learned. Example: English speakers must
learn the use of determiners in Spanish –man is
mortal/El hombre es mortal.
Level 5. Split –one item in the native language
becomes two or more in the target language
requiring the learner to make a new distinction.
English speakers must learn the distinction between
(ser) and (estar)
From the CAH to CLI
(cross-linguistic influence)
Predictions of difficulty by means of contrastive procedures
had many shortcomings. The process could not account for all
linguistic problems or situations not even with the 6
categories. Lastly, the predictions of difficulty level could not
be verified with reliability.
The attempt to predict difficulty by means of contrastive
analysis was called the strong version of the CAH
(Wardaugh, 1970) –a version that he believed unrealistic and
Wardaugh also recognized the weak version of the CAH –one
in which the linguistic difficulties can be more profitably
explained a posteriori by teachers and linguists. When
language and errors appear, teachers can utilize their
knowledge of the target language and native language to
understand the sources of error.
The so-called weak version of the CAH is what
remains today under the label cross-linguistic
influence (CLI) –suggesting that we all recognize the
significant role that prior experience plays in any
learning act, and the influence of the native language
as prior experience must not be overlooked.
Syntactic , lexical, and semantic interference show
far more variation among learners than psychomotor-based pronunciation interference.
Markedness and universal grammar
Eckman (1977,1981) proposed a useful method
for determining directionality of difficultymarkedness theory.
It accounted for degrees of principles of
universal grammar.Eckman showed that marked
items in a language will be more difficult to
acquire than unmarked, and that degree of
markedness will correspond to degrees of
Celse-Murcia and Hawkins (1985:66) sum up
markedness theory:
It distinguishes members of a pair of related forms
or structures by assuming that the marked member
of a pair contains at least one more feature than the
unmarked one. In addition, the unmarked (neutral)
member has a wider range of distribution than the
marked one. In the English indefinite articles (a and
an) an is the more complex or marked form. Verbs
are the classic example for this pattern.
Learner language
CAH stressed the interfering effects of L1 on L2 learning and
claimed, in its strong form, that L2 learning is primarily a process
of acquiring whatever items are different from the L1.
This narrow view of interference ignored the intralingual effects of
Learners are consciously testing hypotheses about the target
language from many possible sources of knowledge.
1. knowledge of the native language
2. limited knowledge of the target language itself
3. knowledge of communicative functions of language
4. knowledge about language in general
5. knowledge about life, human beings, and the universe.
Learners act upon the environment and construct what to them is a
legitimate system of language in its own right.
Learner language
The most obvious approach to analyzing
interlanguage is to study the speech and writing of
learners –learner language (Lightbown & Spada 1993)
Production data is publicly observable and is presumably reflective
of a learner’s underlying competence.
It follows that the study of the speech and writing of learners is
largely the study of the errors of learners. “Correct” production
yields little information about the actual linguistic system of
Error analysis
Human learning is fundamentally a process that involves the
making of mistakes.
They form an important aspect of learning virtually any skill or
acquiring information.
Language learning is like any other human learning.
L2 learning is a process that is clearly not unlike L1 learning in its
trial-and-error nature. Inevitably, learners will make mistakes in the
process of acquisition, and that process will be impeded if they do
not commit errors and then benefit from various forms of feedback
on those errors.
Corder (1967) noted: “a learner’s errors are significant in that they
provide to the researcher evidence of how language is learned or
acquired, what strategies or procedures the learner is employing in
the discovery of the language.”
Mistakes and errors
In order to analyze learner language in an appropriate
perspective, it is crucial to make a distinction between
mistakes and errors, technically two very different
Mistake –refers to a performance error that is either a random
guess or a “slip”, in that is a failure to utilize a known system
correctly. Native speakers make mistakes.When attention is
called to them, they can be self-corrected.
Error –a noticeable deviation from the adult grammar of a
native speaker, reflects the competence of the learner (Does
John can sing?)
Mistakes and errors
The fact that learners do make errors, and
these errors can be analyzed, led to a surge of
study of learners’ errors, called error analysis.
Error analysis became distinguished from
contrastive analysis by its examination of
errors attributable to all possible sources, not
just those resulting from negative transfer of
the native language.
Errors in error analysis
There is a danger in too much attention to
learner’s errors.
A classroom teacher can become so
preoccupied with noticing errors that the
correct utterances in L2 go unnoticed.
While the diminishing of errors is an
important criterion for increasing language
proficiency, the ultimate goal of L2 learning is
the attainment of communicative fluency.
Identifying and describing errors
One of the most common difficulties in understanding the
linguistic systems of both L1 and L2 is the fact that such
systems cannot be directly observed –they must be inferred
by means of analyzing production and comprehension data.
The first step in the process of analysis is the identification
and description of errors. Corder (1971) provided a model for
identifying erroneous or idiosyncratic utterances in a second
language. (chart 8.1) p. 221
A major distinction is made between overt and covert errors.
a. overt –erroneous utterances ungrammatically at the sentence level
b. covert –grammatically well-formed but not according to context of
Does John can sing?
D. Can John sing?
E. original sentence
contained pre-posed do
auxiliary applicable to
most verbs, but not to verbs
with auxiliaries. OUT 2
I saw their department.
B. NO (context about living
quarters in Mexico)
F. YES, Spanish
G. Yo vi su departamento.
H. I saw their apartment.
E. Departamento was
translated to false cognate
department. OUT 2
Categories for description of errors
Errors of addition, omission, substitution, and ordering (math)
Phonology or orthography, lexicon, grammar, and discourse
Global or local (a scissors)
Domain and extent
Interlingual and intralingual transfer
Interlingual (L1 and L2) transfer is a
significant source of error for all learners.
It is now clear that intralingual transfer
(within the target language itself) is a major
factor in L2 learning. It is referred to as
overgeneralization. (see examples on p. 225)
Contexts of learning
A third major source of error, although it
overlaps both types of transfer, is the context
of learning.
Context refers, for example, to the classroom
with its teacher and its materials in the case of
school learning or the social situation in the
case of untutored second language learning.
In a classroom context the teacher or the textbook can lead to
the learner to make faulty hypotheses about the language.
Richards (1971) called it “false concepts”
Stages of learner language
Corder (1973) presents the progression of language learners
in four stages based on observations of what the learner does
in terms of errors alone.
1st stage –random errors, called pre-systematic in which the
learner is only vaguely aware that there is some systematic
order to a particular class of items.
2nd stage –(emergent) stage of learner language finds the
learner growing in consistency in linguistic production.
Learner has begun to discern a system and to internalize
certain rules. Its characterized by ‘backsliding” –seems to
grasp a a rule or principle and then regresses to previous
3. 3rd stage –truly systematic stage in which the learner is now
able to manifest more consistency in producing the second
language. The most salient difference between the 2nd and the
3rd stages is the ability of learners to correct their errors when
they are pointed out.
4. Final stage –stabilization stage; Corder (1973) called it
postsystematic stage. Here the learner has relatively few
errors and has mastered the system to the point that fluency
and intended meanings are not problematic. This fourth stage
is characterized by the learner’s ability to self-correct.
Variability in learner language
A great deal of attention has been given to the variability of
interlanguage development. Just like native speakers hesitate with
expressions in their own language, the same occurs in L2.
Tarone (1988) focused her research on contextual variability, that
is, the extent to which both linguistic and situational contexts may
help to systematically describe what appear simply as unexplained
variation. Tarone suggested four categories of variation:
1. according to linguistic context
2. according to psychological processing factors
3. according to social context
4. according to language function
It is quite common to encounter in a learner’s language various
erroneous features that persist despite what is otherwise a
reasonably fluent command of the language.
This phenomenon is most saliently manifested phonologically in
‘foreign accents’ in the speech of those who have learned a L2 after
puberty (chapter 3).
The relatively permanent incorporation of incorrect linguistic forms
into a person’s second language competence has been referred to as
It is a normal and natural stage for many learners and should not be
viewed as some sort of terminal illness.
Error treatment
Should errors be treated? How they should be
treated? When?
Vigil and Oller (1976) provided feedback
about these questions with the following
Fossilization may be the result of too many
green lights when there should have been some
yellow or red lights.
Affective/cognitive feedback for error
Does John can sing?
red (-)
yellow (0)
green (+)
(positive) Keep
talking; I’m listening
(neutral ) I’m not sure
I want to continue this
(negative) This
conversation is over
(pos.) I understand
your message; it’s
(neutral) I’m not sure
if I correctly
understand you or not.
I don’t understand
what you are saying;
it’s not clear.
Bailey (1985) recommended a useful taxonomy for error treatment
classification; 7 basic options complemented by 7 possible features
To treat or to ignore
To treat immediately or delay
To transfer treatment (other
learners) or not
To transfer to another individual,
subgroup or the whole class
To return , or not, to original error
maker after treatment
To allow other learners to initiate
To test for efficacy of the treatment
Fact or error indicated
Location indicated
Opportunity for new attempt given
Model provided
Error type indicated
Remedy indicated
Improvement indicated
Praise indicated
The matter of how to correct errors is
exceedingly complex.
Research on error correction methods is not at
all conclusive about the most effective
method or technique for error correction.
It seems quite clear that students in the
classroom want and expect errors to be
In the classroom: A model for error
Flow chart as an example of error treatment in
a classroom

Chapter 8 Cross Linguistic Influence and Learner language