Transfer to Nowhere

26 Oct

In Second Language Acquisition (SLA) there are two types of transference: linguistic and cognitive. Linguistic means you can see the influence of the native language on the second language in the surface of the structure– grammatical errors, etc. This is part of the “Transfer to Somewhere” hypothesis, that you can see the influence. “Transfer to Nowhere” is more interesting in that it is cognitive and you can’t readily see the influence. That is, one could have a perfectly grammatical sentence but it still sounds “off” because a native speaker would most likely never produce a sentence that way– that your native language shapes how you express your experience of the world. So off isn’t necessarily off or odd, I think it could also be refreshingly different. It makes me think about writers working in their second/third/fourth/etc. languages. Did Nabokov transfer Russian onto French onto English? I guess he (and Conrad) might be exceptions because they were so able to manipulate English (and I’m guessing their other languages). But then again, I don’t think the influence necessarily causes language to sound off (though in many cases it might, and it does get mixed in with the grammar issues), at least in the cases of talented language users/manipulators.

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