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In this chapter, we aim to summarize the range of work that has been and continues to be conducted on multilingual populations from various theoretical paradigms and/or distinct subareas of theoretical and applied linguistics. Any attempt to be exhaustive in this regard would be doomed from the start, as space – and likely the attention of the reader – would surely be an obstacle. Moreover, and of equal importance, doing so would distract us from the main goal of this book, which is to understand the dynamic nature of representational morphosyntactic transfer in adult multilingualism and the manifold theoretical implications that derive from revealing this. That being said, it is important to understand the larger context in which our choice of focus is situated and thus appreciate the piece of the larger puzzle that it is. Therefore, this chapter serves to provide a cursory snapshot of the puzzle itself.
Throughout the book, our discussions have mainly idealized a situation in which an L3 would be the same for all, taking the sequential bilingual (adult L2 learner) who then seeks to acquire an additional language in adulthood as the point of reference. As you will recall from Section 1.3 in Chapter 1, L3/Ln learners can come in various shapes and sizes. Numerically and chronologically, a third language is quite simple to determine, as simple as counting 1, 2 and 3 (see Hammarberg, 2010, 2018, for a more nuanced discussion). However, this does not mean that all L3s are the same as relates to the application of the models we have discussed, much less the patterns of transfer that we might be able to expect.
In the same spirit as the previous chapter, the present one endeavors to further contextualize the larger puzzle in which L3 morphosyntactic studies are located. In fact, it is important to understand the historical provenance of the theories and related empirical work within L3/Ln morphosyntax on which the remainder of the book will focus. In equal measure, it is important to keep abreast of the trends in the related fields of multilingual acquisition and processing, not only to be a well-rounded L3/Ln scholar but also to understand one’s own subarea better and to ensure the continuity of ideas via potential, when appropriate, cross-fertilization. Thus, before traveling down the road of L3/Ln morphosyntax and transfer studies from a formal linguistic perspective, it makes sense to recap what has been or is being done in the related fields of multilingual lexical processing and acquisition, as well as in phonology.
As we saw in great detail in Chapter 4, interest in the L3/Ln acquisition of morphosyntax is thriving. It is not surprising that a substantial amount of research in this emerging field has focused on transfer and/or cross-language effects (CLE) in L3/Ln learning. Examining how previous linguistic experience affects subsequent learning has been a staple topic in nonnative language acquisition for as long as people have been examining L2 acquisition seriously. This curiosity likely springs from both theoretical interests and personal reflection. Even as young lay people – before we were linguists studying this – we recall having some conscious, if not intuitive, feelings that our native languages both propelled and restricted our learning of the additional languages we were studying. Of course, research over many decades – many hundreds, if not thousands of well-designed studies – has shown how far beyond intuitive anecdote the effects that previous linguistic knowledge has on additional language learning go.
The aim of this chapter is to offer the reader a panoramic yet comprehensive view of the theoretical issues and models that have attracted the most attention within generative approaches to L3/Ln morphosyntactic acquisition, with a particular emphasis on how transfer selection from previously acquired languages is hypothesized to apply. To the best of our ability, all models will be treated in an equal fashion. This does not mean that the description of each model will have or could possibly have the same level of detail, for justifiable reasons. To begin, models have appeared at different times, which correlates with more or less temporal opportunity to have been tested and to have gathered a critical mass of evidence. Moreover, not all models have had an equal amount of support from the published literature – a detailed analysis of which is the focus of Chapter 5 – and/or have had the same level of updating by their authors over time.
This book is about the acquisition of a third language (or more additional languages) in adulthood; that is, when a bilingual – a child who is a simultaneous (2L1) bilingual, a child who has sequentially acquired a second language (L2) or an adult who is a sequential L2 bilingual – acquires yet another language later in life. Is learning a third (L3) or more (Ln) language different from learning an L2 or just more of the same? If the process is different or similar, what are the implications for important questions related to linguistics, psychology, cognitive science and other fields? Addressing and providing some answers to the aforementioned is the overarching goal of this book.
Is acquiring a third language the same as acquiring a second? Are all instances of non-native language acquisition simply one and the same? In this first book-length study of the topic, the authors systematically walk the reader through the evidence to answer these questions. They suggest that acquiring an additional language in bilinguals (of all types) is unique, and reveals things about the links between language and mind, brain, and cognition, which are otherwise impossible to appreciate. The patterns of linguistic transfer and what motivates it when there are choices (as can only be seen starting in third language acquisition) underscores a key concept in linguistic and psychological sciences: economy. Overviewing the subfields examining multilingual acquisition and processing, this book offers an expanded systematic review of the field of multilingual morphosyntactic transfer, as well as providing recommendations for the future emerging field.
The relative conformity with which (typically developing) children attain adult grammatical competence—ultimate attainment—and the similarity in developmental paths along which they progress is remarkable (e.g., Ambridge & Lieven, 2011; Clark, 2003; Guasti, 2002; Synder, 2007). This achievement is, however, so ubiquitous and mundane that we seldom marvel at it. Of course, monolingual adult grammars may also differ from one another, especially for some domains of grammar (e.g., Dąbrowska, 1997, 2012), but such variability pales in comparison to the variation in adult non-native second language (L2) grammars. Indeed, the path and outcomes of L2 acquisition can be highly variable from one individual to another, even under seemingly comparable contexts. Individual and group-level factors in adulthood that either do not apply or apply with much less consequence in young childhood conspire to explain at least some of the gamut of L2 variability.