The relevance of specific language impairment in understanding the role of transfer in second language acquisition

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  • The purpose of this study was to assess whether children with specific language impairment (SLI) are a useful first language (L1) comparison group for second language (L2) children in order to determine whether target-deviant structures in interlanguage are developmental or due to transfer from the L1. Children with SLI could make a useful comparison group for child L2 learners because, unlike very young L1 learners, children with SLI have both incomplete abilities in the target language and the same cognitive and mental maturity as their age mates acquiring an L2.We examined the use of direct object clitics by English-L1/French-L2 learners and monolingual French-speaking children with SLI. Transfer from English might be expected for object pronominalization in French L2 interlanguage because the two languages have contrastive systems for this aspect of grammar. The use of direct object clitics in contexts in spontaneous speech where object pronominalization would be permissible was examined. The results showed that both the L2 and SLI children supplied clitics in permissible contexts at the same rate (approximately 40%), which was lower than that of monolingual, normally developing French-speaking children who were either age-matched (7 years old) or language-matched according to mean length of utterance in words (3 years old) with the L2–SLI children. Although there appeared to be some role of L1 transfer in the relative distribution of nonclitic object types in clitic-permissible contexts, the similarities between the SLI and L2 children suggest that target-deviant structures involving direct object pronominalization are a developmental phenomenon in child French across learner contexts. The results also suggest that for acquisition of some target-deviant structures, there can be greater similarities between L2 and SLI children than between L2 and younger L1 children.

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    Article (Published)
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    © 2004 Cambridge University Press
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  • Citation for previous publication
    • Paradis, J. (2004). The relevance of specific language impairment in understanding the role of transfer in second language acquisition. Applied Psycholinguistics, 25(1), 67-82. doi: