In my PhD project, I investigate roles of L1 features and availability of target language input on L2 acquisition, using data from an empirical study regarding L2 acquisition of Chinese and Thai nominal phrases.
In the study, L1 featural characteristics are grouped into two categories, namely 1) L1 feature is the same as a target language feature; and 2) L1 feature is different from a target language feature. Characteristics of input availability are also divided into two categories, namely 1) Target language input is available to confirm or disconfirm L1 transferred features; and 2) No target language input is available.
For Chinese learners of Thai and Thai learners of Chinese, linguistic phenomena within a nominal phrase domain (such as word order, the use of classifiers and measure words, and the use of collective markers) can represent four possible combinations of the two abovementioned factors. Therefore, they serve as good material to study effects and interactions of these factors.
In my empirical study, a total of 144 participants were recruited. They completed an acceptability judgment task and a self-paced reading task designed to test their acceptability and sensitivity to different features under the nominal phrase domain.
In general, results from these tasks indicate that:
1) It is more likely that learners will successfully acquire a target language feature when learners’ L1 and target language features are the same, compared to when the two features are different.
2) However, the L1 positive transfer effect is not absolute. The fact that L1 and target language features are the same does not always guarantee that learners can behave native-like under all criteria.
3) It is more likely that learners will successfully acquire a target language feature when target language input is available, compared to when the input is not available.
4) However, even when no target language input is available (i.e. falling under the poverty-of-stimulus situation), learners do not necessarily fail to acquire relevant target language features.