Acquisition of Word Formation Devices in First & Second Languages: Morphological Cross-linguistic Influence

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Early school-age English children acquire over 3000 words a year. The main factors which account for such rapid vocabulary growth are context and word Early school age English children acquire over 3000 words a year. The main factors which account for such rapid vocabulary growth are context and word-formation knowledge. Such vocabulary growth is also of great interest in the L2 acquisition. Using empirical tests, the book puts side by side L1 and L2 acquisition of word-formation devices. The first chapter explores the early acquisition of word-formation devices by English children and presents the principles through which cross-linguistic influence diverts L2 learners from the natural way of acquiring word-formation devices of their target language. It also presents the 'Dual Semantic Transparency' Hypothesis in the L2 acquisition. The second and third chapters utilize empirical evidence in examining the advanced acquisition of word-formation devices by both native speakers and L2 learners, as well as highlight the points in which morphological cross-linguistic transfer is more evident to L2 learners. The fourth chapter offers suggestions over the way L2 learners' knowledge of word-formation devices of their target language can be improved. The book is targeted to anyone interested in language acquisition.

Endri Shqerra
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Chapter 1


Extended Level Ordering Hypothesis orders English word formation and inflectional morphemes in four levels with respect to phonological effects, semantic regularity and Productivity. According to its rule, the strong boundary separating the morphemes blocks the formation of non-compositional meaning (e. g., idiosyncratic words) as well as the operation of phonological rules of assimilation. Morphemes of English language which have a strong boundary are also productive.

The weak boundary, on the other hand, allows the formation of non- compositional meaning (i. e., idiosyncratic words are formed) and phonological rules of assimilation apply. Such morphemes and word-formation rules are less productive in English language.

Level 1: Class 1 derivation, irregular inflection, irregular plural forming compounds

Level 2: Class 2 derivation

Level 3: Root Compounding (prefix non-, zero derivation)

Level 4: Regular inflection

Level 4 involves inflectional morphemes which are considered to have the strongest boundary separating them from the word they attach. Level 3 involves root compounds. Allen, M. (1979) includes in Level 3 and the prefix non-, which has a strong boundary separating it from the word it attaches, a level stress, no assimilation by the word it attaches, and a completely compositional semantics.

Level 2 incorporates suffixes (e. g., Neutral suffixes) as well as Level 2 prefixes (e. g. re-, un-) which have a less strong a boundary separating them from the root they attach.

Level 1’ incorporates suffixes (e. g., Non-neutral suffixes) and prefixes (e. g. sub-, de-, in-) which have a weak boundary separating them from the stem/word they attach. Kiparsky’s (1982) situates in this level and irregular plural forming compounds.

Morphemes’ order stipulated by Extended Level Ordering, as we shall also demonstrate in this book, corresponds with the order morphemes and word-formation rules are acquired by English children. Inflection morphemes are acquired first by English children, and even before word-formation morphemes. Root compounds are also the complex words acquired early by preschool age English children (Anglin, 1993; Berko, 1958). Level 2 affixes (e. g., Neutral suffixes) are also acquired by English children during their preschool age (Tyler & Nagy, 1989); though less than compound words. Morphemes and word-formation rules belonging in Level 4 (e. g., Non-neutral suffixes) are acquired last.

Though, Extended Level Ordering is not applicable in other languages. Root compounds have the strongest boundary separating the morphemes even in other languages, but, what differs is the degree of productivity root compounds own in other languages. Compounding is more productive than derivation in English language. In other languages, like Polish and Albanian, there is derivation which is more productive than compounding. Such difference in the productivity transforms the order in which Polish and Albanian children acquire word-formation paterns (i. e., compounding or derivation) of their L1.

How are word-formation devices acquired in the second language acquisition? Heijden (1999, 138) maintains that bilingual children follow the same order as native children during their course of acquiring word-formation paterns (compounding or derivation) of their target languages. Hence, bilingual children acquiring English show a preference for compounding of English language, while, on the other hand, if their other language favors derivation over compounding (e. g., Polish language), they show a preference for derivation. On the other hand, adult L2 learners, regardless of their L1 and L2 Productivity, show a common preference for compound words of their target of language; preference which is due to the morphological clarity that compound words own over derived words (Prude, C. 1993, 71).

The natural order of acquiring affixes also differs in L2 acquisition. Mochizuki and Aizawa (2000) tried to establish affixes’ acquisition order to Japan speaking English learners. They uphold that the factors responsible for the order are: “loan words, instruction, frequency of affixes, frequency of words that contain a particular affix, and the polyfunctional nature of affixes” (2000, 1). Obviously, the effect that ‘loan words’ have on the L2 affixes’ acquisition order is inconsistent with what Extended Level Ordering Hypothesis argues.

Danilovic et. al., (2013) tested the order established by Mochizuki and Aizawa (2000). Testing Serbian speaking English learners, the authors conclude that the “order differed for Japanese and Serbian learners” (Danilovic. J. et. al., 2013). Both authors acknowledge that there is the L1 influence which affects affixes’ acquisition order to both Serbian and Japanese students. Further, there is the difference between Serbia and Japanese languages which transforms the order in which Serbia and Japanese learners acquire affixes of the target language.

Displaying the key elements of L1 and L2 acquisition, O’Neill, R. (1998) assesses that acquiring L2 as children acquire their L1 is a “wishful thinking and… based on a profound misconception about the nature of L2 learning - just as it is a misconception about how L1 acquisition occurs”. Hereinafter, O’Neill, R. (1998) maintains that “the best way to explore the differences between the two processes is to view them side-by-side – in parallel”.

The focus of this book is to view side by side L1 and L2 acquisition of word-formation devices. Doing so, it explores the differences between L1 and L2 acquisition of word-formation devices, as well as displays the role cross-linguistic influence plays in L2 acquisition of word-formation devices.

First chapter initially depicts the way word-formation devices are acquired in L1 acquisition. In accordance with what Extended Level Ordering suggests, there is argued that productivity enhances the Semantic Transparency of productive word-formation morphemes.

The first chapter also presents the principles through which Cross-linguistic Influence affects L2 acquisition of word-formation devices to pre intermediate L2 learners: Orthographic and Phonological Overlap, and Morphological Translation Equivalence, as well as examine the way Cross-linguistic Influence intervenes in the acquisition of L2 Productivity to L2 learners, distracting L2 learners from the natural acquisition of L2 Productivity.

The chapter also introduces the Dual Semantic Transparency Hypothesis in L2 Acquisition, which argues that the Semantic Transparency of L2 word-formation morphemes is enhanced by L2 itself (i. e., by Semantic Transparency, Formal Simplicity and Productivity degree they own in pupils’ L2), and, second, by Orthographic & Phonological Overlap and/or by the degree of Morphological Translation Equivalence they share with their counterparts in pupils’ L1. This is also tested and the results are presented in Table 1.

Productivity particular to the language children are acquiring affects the order in which native children acquire word-formation paterns (compounding or derivation) of their L1. English children, whose L1 favors compounding over derivation, show a preference for compounding. On the other hand, Polish and Albanian children, whose L1 favors derivation over compounding, show a preference for derivation of their L1.

Therefore, first grade English children’s vocabulary is mainly composed of compound words. On the other hand, first grade Polish and Albanian children’s vocabulary is presumed to be mainly composed of derived words. The first objective of the second chapter is displaying Albanian pupils’ awareness of their L1 derivatives. Do they outperform their English counterparts as regards the knowledge of L1 derivatives?

If Polish and Albanian pupils are more aware of their L1 derivatives than their English counterparts, they may acquire their L1 derivational morphology earlier compared to English children. Accordingly, the second objective of the second chapter is examining the derivational morphology English and Albanian pupils possess. Do Albanian pupils outperform their English counterparts as regards the knowledge of derivational morphology?

Third Chapter examines the acquisition of derivational morphology by both pre intermediate and advanced L2 learners. Tests similar to those of Tyler & Nagy (1989) are conducted to L2 learners, and their results are compared with those of Tyler & Nagy (1989).

The annual rate of vocabulary growth is high to early school age English children. From Anglin (1993, 62) data we may appraise that first to third grade English children acquire 3,000 words per year, and that fourth to fifth grade English children acquire 10,000 words per year. We may assess that the early school years mark a rapid development in English children’s vocabulary.

There is word-formation knowledge which assists early school age English children in such rapid enlargement of their vocabulary (Fowler, et. al., 2003; Nagy & Anderson 1984; Nagy, 1984; White, et. al., 1989; Kuo & Anderson, 2006). Calculating the number of members for each word family present in the textbooks used in elementary schools, Nagy & Anderson (1984, 20) expose that there are 6.88 members for each word family. Reasonably, Nagy (1988, 46) concludes that “there is no doubt that skilled word learners use context and their knowledge of prefixes, roots, and suffixes to deal effectively with new words”.

Certainly such high vocabulary growth is of great interest in L2 acquisition, though, it has been estimated that only the most advanced L2 learners acquire 3,000 words a year. The fourth chapter offers suggestion over the way advanced L2 learners’ acquisition of word-formation devices of their target language may be improved. Doing so, the chapter uses inferences drawn from both L1 and L2 acquisition.

Early acquisition of word-formation devices in L1 & L2

A five to six years old child knows 10,000 to 13,000 words (Berman, R. 2004, 56; Anglin, 1993, 62). Nation & Waring (1997, 7) claim that “a five years old beginning school will have a vocabulary of around 4000 to 5000 word families”. Thus, a five to six years old child knows at least 10,000 words arranged in approximately 5000 word-families.

The implication here is that a five years old child may be aware of only 2 members for each word family he knows; perhaps one is the root word (i. e., mono-morphemic words) and the other is the complex one. Accordingly, Anglin (1993, 69-72) sustains that root words constitute 31% of the first grade English children’s vocabulary, whereas compound and derived words together constitute 41% of the first grade English children’s vocabulary.

In this chapter, initially, we shall display the main points of the way preschool children acquire word-formation devices of their language. This way, the chapter establishes the natural order of the early acquisition of English word-formation devices, which, as we shall demonstrate, is affected by the productivity particular to the language children are learning.

The Communicative Approaches (the focus on meaning approaches) uphold that adults acquire their L2 through “subconscious learning process that allow them to pick up language ‘naturally’, as in the first language acquisition’’ (Markee 1996, 25). According to this view, the mastery of grammar (i. e. word-formation devices) comes naturally, through extended exposure to the target language (L2), similar to the way children become aware of word-formation’s devices of their mother tongue (L1).

In contrast, Ullman, M. T. (2001, 1) upholds that “linguistic forms whose grammatical computation depends upon procedural memory in L1 are posited to be largely dependent upon declarative/lexical memory in L2”. In short, L2 learners have a limited acquisition capacity of linguistic forms (word-formation rules) compared to native children (Clahsen 2006; Ullman, M. T. 2001). The implication here is that L2 learners acquire L2 complex words as a unit rather than analytically.

Yet, there is Cross-linguistic influence which affects L2 learners’ linguistic development and performance. Though, Cross-linguistic influence is both positively and negatively. Pre intermediate L2 learners are assisted by positive Cross-linguistic influence in their acquisition of L2 word-formation devices. On the other hand, Cross-linguistic influence diverts L2 learners from the natural order of acquiring L2 word-formation devices; impeding them in attaining an early native-like manifestation of their target language.

In this chapter we shall also try to answer both questions regarding Cross-linguistic influence in the acquisition of L2 word-formation devices. How does positive Cross-linguistic influence assist pre intermediate L2 learners during their early acquisition of L2 word-formation devices? Second, how does Cross-linguistic influence divert L2 learners from the natural order of acquiring L2 word-formation devices?

Clahsen, H. & Felser, C. (2006, 57) sustain that “children from about age 4 employ the same parsing mechanisms as mature adults”. Studying the way English and Hebrew children acquire word-formation devices of their L1, Clark & Berman (1984, 543) proclaim that children’s gradual mastery of word-formation repertoire starts at an early age, at about three years old. Making a similar study to English and Polish children, Haman et al. (2010, 185) assert that the acquisition of word-formation devices starts at the age of 3 and the repertoire of derived and compound words is more apparent at 5 year old children.

Preschool age children’s acquisition of word-formation is governed by four principles which Clark & Berman (1984, 547-549) term as: Semantic Transparency, Formal Simplicity, Productivity, and Conventionality. Among these four principles, Clark & Berman (1984, 548) highlight Semantic Transparency and Formal Simplicity as the most vital for the early period of the word-formation devices’ acquisition. As we shall further demonstrate in this book, Productivity of the language significantly influences children’s preferences for word-formation patterns (i. e., derivation or compounding) of their L1. On the other hand, Conventionality can be defined as the stage which requires a memory of language.

Semantic Transparency: Children acquire early complex words which are based on roots they already know (sky-car, baby-bottle, to flag, to dust, brusher, hider). English-speaking children acquire early noun plus noun compounds (toothpaste, football), and compounds having head noun as –man (mailman, milkman, corresponding with batman, spiderman).

Literal compound words, whose meaning can be extracted by the roots (e. g. handwriting), appear to possess Semantic Transparency (i. e. transparent meaning), and are thus acquired early by English children. Nevertheless, preschool age children acquire and derivational morphemes, and, as we shall demonstrate in the second chapter, the extent to which preschool age children acquire derivational morphemes lies to the Productivity of the language they are acquiring (i. e., weather their L1 favors derivation or compounding).

Formal Simplicity: This principle stands for complex words with simple combination of morphemes (car-smoke, wagon-puller) (Clark & Berman, 1984, 548). Derived words, in which affixation causes no shift in stress, are also acquired early by preschool age children (e. g. Neutral suffixed words).

Productivity: A morpheme (affix) is considered to be productive when it combines with different stems, hence, to be frequently used in the adults’ speech possessing a high degree of activation. Children have the competence to acquire and use the morphemes most frequently used in the adult’s speech. When they identify that the suffix –er has a high level of activation, hence, a high productivity degree, they acquire and use this suffix (1984, 548). We may also uphold that there is their high occurrence in children’s natural environment which increases children’s familiarity with such morphemes.

In their study, Clark & Berman (1984, 560) reach a generalization that children acquire earlier suffixes, which seem to be favored over prefixes. Studding the way English and Hebrew children acquire word-formation devices, Clark & Berman (1984, 583) even bring to a close that “a preference for suffixing is common to children acquiring both English and Hebrew”.

In this regard, Clark & Berman (1984, 583) are arguing that suffixes are acquired simultaneously with morphemes possessing Semantic Transparency. The implication here is that suffixes appear to possess more Semantic Transparency compared to prefixes, which is not an actuality. Prefixes generally do not change the grammatical category of the word. Suffixes, on the other hand, change the grammatical category of the word. Furthermore, prefixes mostly have a distinct meaning of their own whereas suffixes only serve to modify the word. These facts seem to suggest that prefixes posses more Semantic Transparency compared to suffixes. So, why is this preference for suffices?

Suffixes are more productive than prefixes in English, Hebrew, as well as in many other languages (Aitchison 2012). Hence, children’s preference for suffixes is governed by Productivity of the Universal Language. Consequently, at this point, Clark & Berman (1984, 560) in reality are arguing about children’s acquisition of the Productivity of the Universal Language (i. e. suffixes being acquired before prefixes) which is acquired concurrently with morphemes possessing Semantic Transparency.

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