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The effect of computational complexity on L1 transfer: Evidence from L2 Chinese attitude-bearing wh-questions

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This article reports on an empirical study of attitude-bearing wh-questions in English speakers’ second language (L2) Chinese. Although English and Chinese wh-questions are different in that the wh-word in the former moves to the sentence initial position while that in the latter stays in situ, the two languages share some characteristics in their attitude-bearing wh-questions. It is widely assumed in L2 research that first language (L1) structures similar to or the same as those in the target language can facilitate the course of L2 acquisition but L1 structures which are different from the target language interfere with successful L2 acquisition. However, the findings in this study show that wh-movement in English wh-questions is not transferred into English speakers’ L2 Chinese and that the similarities between English and Chinese have very limited facilitating functions in English speakers’ handling of Chinese attitude-bearing wh-questions. The findings here support Yuan’s (2001) argument that L1 transfer is a relative phenomenon in L2 acquisition and can be accounted for on the basis of an analysis in Scheidnes et al. (2009), Scheidnes and Tuller (2010) and Prévost et al. (2014) that computation complexity can override L1 influence.



Chinese attitude-bearing wh-questions, second language, computational complexity, L1 transfer

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Elsevier BV