Cognates and Language Transfer

Cognates and Language Transfer

(The following is adapted from Wikipedia article Language Transfer)

Language transfer refers to speakers or writers applying knowledge from their native language to a second language.

It can occur in any situation when someone does not have a native-level command of a language, as when learning a second language.

(It is also known as L1 interference, linguistic interference, and crossmeaning.)

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POSITIVE TRANSFER -- THE ADVANTAGE OF COGNATES

When the structure of both languages is similar, linguistic transfer can result in correct language production — "correct" meaning in line with most native speakers' notions of acceptability. This called POSITIVE TRANSFER.

An example of Positive Transfer is the use of COGNATES.

The results of positive transfer go largely unnoticed. Nonetheless, such results can have a large effect. Generally speaking, the more similar the two languages are, and the more the learner is aware of the relation between them, the more positive transfer will occur.

Because the results of positive transfer go largely unnoticed, it is less often discussed than negative transfer, described below:

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NEGATIVE TRANSFER -- THE DANGER OF FALSE COGNATES

Language interference is most often discussed as a source of errors known as NEGATIVE TRANSFER.

Negative transfer occurs when speakers and writers transfer items and structures that are not the same in both languages.

The greater the differences between the two languages, the more negative transfer can be expected.

For example, an Anglophone learner of German may correctly guess an item of German vocabulary from its English counterpart, but word order and collocation are more likely to differ, as will connotations.

Such an approach has the disadvantage of making the learner more subject to the influence of ‘FALSE COGNATES’, often referred to as "false friends".

(Language Transfer is revealed by contrastive analysis: the systematic study of a pair of languages with a view to identifying their structural similarities and differences.)

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