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Developmental Sequences in Learning Japanese: A Look at Negation

Abstract

Previous research has established that language learners follow developmental sequences in acquiring such features as tense, negation, and question formation in a second language (L2), and that these patterns are similar to those characteristic of children acquiring their first language (L1). These findings have been based almost exclusively on acquisition patterns in learners of English and other Indo-European languages; until recently, almost no L2 acquisition research existed on typologically dissimilar (i.e., non-Indo-European) languages. Thus, the question arises: Do learners of non-Indo-European languages also follow common routes in acquiring certain L2 features? To address this issue, the development of negation in L2 learners of Japanese was selected as the focus for the present study. Twelve subjects beginning their study of Japanese at the university level in the U.S. were recruited to determine how propositional negation emerged in their interlanguage. Subjects were interviewed bi-monthly over an academic year and oral production data examined to determine types of negation patterns used and predicate contexts in which they emerged. Analysis of data revealed several developmental patterns common to the learners: 1) from fewer to more negation patterns were used over time, and 2) an ordering effect was observed in terms of the predicate environment in which negation is acquired first (nominal and verb negation before adjective negation). Results expand our understanding of developmental sequences in L2 learning by establishing its occurrence in a non-Indo-European language. It also documents that L2 Japanese learners negative constructions are remarkably similar to those of L1 children. The present study, by providing insight into the acquisition of one feature in a non-Indo-European language, holds significance for second language theory as well as Japanese language pedagogy.

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