Kathrin Feindt

(University of Hamburg)

English as L2 – Phonological Cross-Linguistic Influence in Turkish-German Bilinguals

Not only do researchers continue to ask whether and when transfer will take place in interlanguage development, but they additionally ponder on the specific interplay between the L1, L2, L3 and the potential source for cross-linguistic influence. This is especially true in the case of learners who were raised bilingually, as it is obvious that the acquisition process will be more complex when several languages come into contact. Through their greater linguistic resources, polyglots’ source language for transfer effects may differ. It has been shown in recent research that typological similarities and differences between all languages involved, even if there are only subjectively perceived, prove to be important factors for Cross-Linguistic Influence (CLI) for L3 settings. An important distinction has to be made between actual typological closeness and the closeness as it is perceived by the learner, the so called psychotypology (cf. Kellermann&Smith 1986). Looking at psychotypology and CLI in this light it can be said that a language may serve as a source for transfer, although it might not be the most economical choice.

Many studies were carried out and many theories built as to how one or more established language system(s) interfere with the acquisition of an additional language. For the most part, they are concerned with syntax and morphology (Ringbom 2001, Foote 2009). To close the gap of knowledge about phonological CLI, the process of acquiring a further phonological system in bilinguals is the main object of investigation in this paper.

The data examined here involves 66 monolingual German and 35 bilingual Turkish-German children in forms seven and nine learning English in Germany. Analyses of learner’s spoken English reveal that typology seems indeed to be influential in phonology to the extent that bilinguals display differing source languages for transfer effects according to similarity of individual phonemes to produce target-like speech.

Additionally an interesting observation can be made, namely, that superordinate phonological systems and concrete individual phonemes behave differently when it comes to CLI. It seems to be the case that bilingual learners draw individual phonemes from one language, whereas the source for phonological systems as final devoicing or vowel harmony can shift to the other language. It will be argued that if there are no obvious and objective typological references to be made, learners fall back to a psychotypology, which is built up in large parts through metalinguistic knowledge, in this case phonological awareness. Phonological awareness is understood as the recognition of sound structures of spoken language and is the ability to concentrate one’s attention on the formal-linguistic sound aspects of language (independent of meaning). It is to be expected that polyglots, in comparison to monolinguals, show a greater metalinguistic knowledge, having acquired more than one phonological system, which ultimately leads to a more elaborate psychotypology. Through this, there may be phonological transfer effects influencing the acquisition process, which might on the one hand not be grounded in the languages involved, but instead in the learner, and on the other hand might not be found in children who grew up in a monolingual environment.



Foote R. (2009). “Transfer in L3 Acquisition: The role of typology”. Third Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar 45: 89-114.

Kellermann, E. & Smith M.S. (1986). Crosslinguistic Influence in Second Language Acquisition. Pergamon Institute of English.

Ringbom, H. (2001). “Lexical transfer in L3 production”. Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 18: 59-68.