I presented an article in Language Acquisition yesterday. Here it is adapted from its native PPT format into a blog post. Lucky you. The article is Bidirectional Transfer, by Pavlenko, A., & Jarvis, S. (2002). Applied Linguistics, 23(2), 190-214. Jarvis, S., by the way, is a graduate of none other than Linguistics at the BYU.
The idea that L1 (first language) affects L2 (second language) is well established in the literature of language acquisition. Think about it: you've heard people use odd constructions in English (as a second language), or they have an accent, or they're always using words from their first language, or there's just something unnatural about the way they speak, no matter how proficient they seem on the surface. Those are all straightforward examples of L1 transfer to L2.
But can L2 affect L1? Traditionally, the research has examined this issue only in the context of child bilingualism, especially simultaneous bilingualism (where the child learns two languages at once). In adults, it was thought that since L1 had reached "maturity," it was no longer subject to change or influence from any L2 that was subsequently acquired.
Pavlenko and Jarvis set out to test that assumption, seeking evidence for something called bidirectionality. This is the idea that L1 could affect L2, but L2 could also affect L1, even in adults, even in sequential bilingualism (where languages were learned one after the other, not all at once). If bidirectionality does exist - and Pavlenko and Jarvis hypothesize that it does - what is the nature of it, and what forms does it take?
To find out, they designed an experiment that is too complex to describe in full here. Basically, they got 22 native Russian speakers who did not learn English growing up but were now living in the US and speaking English fluently (if not native-like) (and they happened to all be students at Cornell). They showed the participants two videos that told a story without using any dialogue. Then the researchers interviewed the participants about the videos, asking them to describe what happened. Each participant was interviewed in both Russian and English. Then, their responses were analyzed for evidence of bidirectional transfer; that is, the researchers looked for evidence of L1's effect on L2 (a well traveled road) but also L2's effect on L1 (a novel idea).
The neat thing is, they totally found evidence of L2 affecting L1. Aside from specific examples of L2 > L1 transfer in six of nine categories of analysis, when they played the Russian narratives to Russian monolinguals, those native speakers said the speech samples of the participants sounded ever so slightly non-native or unnatural.
As for specific evidence, they found stuff like the Russians working English words like "boyfriend," "landlord," and "appointment" into their regular Russian speech, accommodating only for a shift toward Russian phonology. There were also instances of semantic overextension influenced by English, like when a participant used Russian неудобно (uncomfortable) not in the narrow distribution called for, but in a wider semantic sense that the English "uncomfortable" allows. Sometimes the Russians translated English idiomatic phrases word-for-word instead of substituting more natural Russian constructions. Or they constrained their sentences to English's mandatory SVO (subject-verb-object) word order when SOV would have been more natural (and totally acceptable) in Russian.
So yes, the authors concluded, there is evidence for bidirectional transfer between L1 and L2. There is even evidence that L2 can affect L1, even in adulthood after L1 is supposedly set in stone. This shows that "native-speakerness" is not a stable construct. Even our native language can change as a result of additional languages we may learn in adulthood.
Neat, huh? If you learned an L2 as an adult, or even as a kid, have you noticed an impact on your native language? It's the kind of thing where first you might think it doesn't happen, and then you reflect a little more and realize that it does, and yet you can't quite think of any examples...
Even if you haven't learned an L2, didn't you think, like most research has assumed over the years, that our native languages will always be there, always be the same? It's interesting, and a bit frightening, to think that that's not the case after all.