Application of Markedness Theory to Japanese Learners' Acquisition of Discourse Factors in the Dative Alternation

Katsufuji, Kazuko Shimabukuro
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Transfer is an important element in second language acquisition, and researchers have sought to identify the conditions that promote and inhibit transfer. One of the most rigorous claims in research on transfer is that the degree of transferability of different features depends on their degree of markedness. Eckman (1977 , 1981 , 1996) has advanced the Markedness Differential Hypothesis (MDH) to account for "(1) why some NL-TL differences do not cause diffrculty, and (2) why some differences are associated with degrees of difficulty and others are not (Eckman, 1996, p.199)." Eckman claims that the transfer effects surface when the area of L1 is unmarked and the area of L2 marked, but does not exist when the area of L1 is marked and the L2 unmarked. In this paper, data from native language (NL), interlanguage (IL), and target language (TL) are analyzed to examine how discourse factors of English dative alternation are acquired by Japanese adult learners of English, then the results are interpreted within the framework of Eckman's MDH. The first section of this paper briefly reviews the concept of markedness in general and in MDH. In the second section, what is known about discourse constraints on the dative alternation in English is discussed. In the third section, a brief review of research on Japanese dative structures is provided, since the MDH makes predictions dependent on the universal principles and the native language of the learner. The subsequent sections outline the research hypotheses, describe the experiment, and interpret the results, which are in general consistent with the hypothesis. Finally, suggestions are made for additional research.
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