Tatjana S. Grujić
Abstract: In second language acquisition (SLA) transfer is predominantly explored as either positive or negative influence of learners’ first language (L1) on their second/foreign language (L2) performance. Studies in this field serve not only to describe the learner’s interlanguage, but also to inform, improve and refine foreign language teaching.
However, the scope of SLA studies is such that it leaves the other transfer direction under-researched (L2 to L1), assuming that once the learner’s L1 system has fully developed, their L1 competence will not be subject to change. More recent studies of adult bilinguals have shown a bidirectional interaction between the two linguistic systems: not only does L1 influence L2, but L2 influences L1 as well.
In this study, conducted among adult students of English (B2 to C1 level language users, according to CEFR), we examine the influence of English as a foreign language upon Serbian as a native tongue in terms of tense transfer. More precisely, the study explores how the subjects interpret and translate the secondary meanings of the English past tense. The basic meaning of the past tense is to locate an event (or state) in the past. However, in its secondary meanings (backshift past in reported clauses, counterfactual present in adverbial clauses of condition and ‘past subjunctive’ when expressing wishes and regrets) it does not refer to the past time. The error analysis of students’ English to Serbian translations provides evidence of L2 influence: learners tend to use the Serbian past rather than the present tense in their translations. Pedagogical implications of this study of misuse of L1 tense include focusing on explicit corrective feedback and polishing instructional materials.
Keywords:L2 English to L1 Serbian tense transfer, language teaching, translation, tense semantics.
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