The University of Arizona


Katherine J. Riestenberg, Hana S. Jan, Luciane Maimone, Cristina Sanz


This study investigates the roles of cross-linguistic influence (CLI) and explicit knowledge in explaining the posited advantage of previous language experience in L3 learning, as well as the potential role of amount of L2 exposure in modulating these relationships. We examine a unique L2-L3 language pairing, Arabic and Latin respectively, among native speakers of English. Like Sanz, Park, and Lado (2015), we employ Bates and MacWhinney’s (1989) Competition Model (CM), a functional-typological framework that allows for the examination of learners’ usage of language-specific cues in sentence processing. We build on this previous work by additionally investigating (1) whether there is a relationship between amount of classroom experience studying L2 Arabic and reliance on Arabic cues when learning L3 Latin, and (2) whether accuracy in L3 Latin is correlated with explicit knowledge of Latin cues and whether learners with more L2 Arabic experience are more likely to develop such explicit knowledge. Thirtyfive native English-speaking learners of Arabic at three different levels completed computer-based training and testing tasks dealing with thematic role assignment in Latin following a pretest, posttest, delayed posttest design as well as a test of explicit knowledge of Latin cues. We show that learners in the early stages of L3 development start with an L1-based strategy (SVO word order), replicating the findings in Sanz, Park, and Lado (2015). We add to these results evidence that with more exposure participants showed increased accuracy on items requiring the use of Latin cues present in their L2 Arabic but not in their L1 English (i.e., subject-verb agreement and case). Importantly, there was emergent evidence that this increase in accuracy was mitigated by amount of Arabic experience. In addition, L3 explicit knowledge was a significant predictor of Latin performance and was also related to level of L2 experience. These results suggest that amount of L2 exposure may mediate CLI in L3 acquisition, and add to a growing body of evidence showing an important role for explicit knowledge in adult language learning, at least among classroom learners.

Keywords: cross-linguistic influence; third language acquisition; morphosyntactic transfer; Competition Model; agency assignment; explicit knowledge; exposure

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