Interference

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Definition

In research on second language acquisition and language contact, the term interference refers to the influence of one language (or variety) on another in the speech of bilinguals who use both languages.

"Those instances of deviation from the norms of either language which occur in the speech of bilinguals as a result of their familiarity with more than one language, i.e. as a result of language contact, will be referred to as INTERFERENCE phenomena." (Weinreich 1953:1)

Interference can take place at all levels of the linguistic system, i.e. in phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and the lexicon.

Comments

The influence of one language on another in the speech of bilinguals is relevant both to the field of second language acquisition (where the interference from the learner's native language is studied) and to the field of historical linguistics (where the effects of interference on language change are studied).

In the context of second language acquisition, interference may lead to either negative transfer (transfer which results in non-target-like use of L2) or positive transfer (transfer resulting in target-like use of L2) (cf. Ellis, Rod. 1998. Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 51, p. 140). Interference is mostly (and sometimes exclusively) used for instances of negative transfer, and the two terms are often regarded as synonyms (cf. Ellis, Rod. 1997. The Study of Second Language Acquisition. 5th, improved edition. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, p. 302). Recently, many researchers investigating second language acquisition have observed that interference carries a negative connotation and have therefore increasingly tended to avoid it, preferring the term transfer instead.

Historical linguists have generally focused on languages rather than speakers, and have used the term interference in a different, historical sense. However, since the term contact-induced change has now widely established itself, interference is no longer common in historical linguistics.

There is a verb that is derivationally related to the noun interference, i.e. (to) interfere (e.g. "The phonology of the speaker's native language interferes with the use of the second language").

Examples

Phonological interference

Phonological interference is a common type of interference, its most prominent manifestation being a “foreign accent”.

Transfer from Dutch to English (Received Pronunciation): (cf. Swan, Michael and Smith, Bernard. 1988. Learner English – A Teacher’s Guide to Interference and Other Problems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 4).

Dutch: Vinger (/ˈv̥ɪŋəʀ/ )

Incorrect learner English: Finger (*/ˈfɪŋə/ )

Correct R.P.: Finger (/ˈfɪŋgə/ )

Words including the combination “ng” may be pronounced incorrectly in English, since they are realized as [ŋ] in Dutch. In that case, the [ŋ] pronounced by a native speaker of Dutch would be transferred to the learner language English, where [ŋɡ] would be the correct pronunciation. Therefore, the realization of “ng” as [ŋ] in the native language would interfere with the pronunciation of the learner language, e.g. the “ng”-combination in Finger: Dutch: [ŋ] vs. Received Pronunciation: [ŋɡ] .

Syntactic interference

Transfer from German to English (Received Pronunciation) (cf. König, Ekkehard and Gast, Volker. 2009. Understanding English-German Contrasts. 2., neu bearbeitete Auflage. Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, pp. 86f, p. 91 or Template:Cite web):

German: Gestern habe ich Ball gespielt.

Incorrect Learner English: *I have played ball yesterday.

Correct Received Pronunciation: I played ball yesterday.

Since the German Perfekt (habe gespielt) is not used in the same way as the English Present Perfect, it may come to interference at the syntactic level (cf. the learner English-example). Speakers of German apply the Perfekt in similar contexts (here: a narrative use) as the German Imperfekt (~the German equivalent of the Past Tense), whereas this is different with the English Present Perfect and the English Past Tense. Here, reference to definite moments in the past requires the Past Tense.

Lexical interference

Transfer from English to German: cf. Template:Cite web

English: He wrote the letter on the blackboard.

Incorrect Learner German: Er schrieb den *Brief an die Tafel.

Correct German: Er schrieb den Buchstaben an die Tafel.

In English, letter carries various meanings. This example illustrates especially the following ones: i) the letter that one can mail by post and ii) the letter as an element of the alphabet. Since each of the two meanings has its particular counterpart in German, interference at a lexical level could arise. Therefore, a strict word-by-word translation (i.e. with the help of a dictionary) could result in the incorrect choice of Brief although the context of the English letter implied the German Buchstabe.

Polysemy

Interference can refer to the influence on one language on another in speech (as in second language acquisition research), or to the influence of one language on another in language change (as in historical linguistic research) (see interference (i.e. contact-induced change)). In some contexts, the term may be used in a vague sense that is neutral between the two readings.

Origin

The term became well-known through Weinreich's influential (1953) book Languages in contact. Weinreich used the term in both senses (interference in speech and interference in language change).

Since its introduction (cf. Template:Cite web) into linguistics by Uriel Weinreich in 1953, the term interference has undergone some changes (cf. Ringbom, Håkan. 2007. Cross-Linguistic Similarity in Foreign Language Learning. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, pp. 32f). Weinreich used the term to refer to any type of pattern transfer (from L1 to L2 and from L2 to L1) (cf. Nemser, William. 1991. Language Contact and Foreign Language Acquisition. In: Ivir, Vladimir. 1991. Languages in Contact and Contrast: Essays in Contact Linguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, p. 346). Cf. Odlin, Terence. 1989. Language Transfer: Cross-Linguistic Influence in Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, p. 12, p. 24. In specific fields of second language acquisition, the term came to be used in a narrower sense, i.e. (i) only for transfer from L1 to L2 and (ii) only for negative transfer.

References

  • Ammon, Ulrich, Dittmar, Norbert and Mattheier, Klaus J. 2004. Sociolinguistics – An International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society. 2., vollständig neu bearbeitete und erweiterte Auflage. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Bennoudi, Hanan. 2007. Lost in Translation: From Arabic to English and back again. MED Magazine 46.
  • Ellis, Rod. 1986. Understanding Second Language Acquisition. 2nd, improved edition. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
  • Ellis, Rod. 1997. The Study of Second Language Acquisition. 5th, improved edition. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
  • Ellis, Rod. 1998. Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Jarvis, Scott and Pavlenko, Aneta. 2008. Crosslinguistic Influence in Language and Cognition. New York: Routledge.
  • Kerr, J. 1988. A study of the identification of instances of language transfer and interference in samples of writing and speech. Queensland Researcher 4(1). 4-22.
  • König, Ekkehard and Gast, Volker. 2009. Understanding English-German Contrasts. 2., neu bearbeitete Auflage. Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag.
  • Nemser, William. 1991. Language Contact and Foreign Language Acquisition. In: Ivir, Vladimir. 1991. Languages in Contact and Contrast: Essays in Contact Linguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 345-364.
  • Odlin, Terence. 1989. Language Transfer: Cross-Linguistic Influence in Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Ringbom, Håkan. 2007. Cross-Linguistic Similarity in Foreign Language Learning. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
  • Ritchie, William C. 1996. Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. San Diego: Academic Press.
  • Rothstein, Björn Michael. 2007. The Perfect Time Span: On the Present Perfect in German, Swedish and English.
  • Saville-Troike, Muriel. 2006. Introducing Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Schröder, Ulrike. 2007. Holistische und integrative Tendenzen in der Zweitspracherwerbsforschung.
  • Sharwood Smith, Michael. 1996. Crosslinguistic Influence with Special Reference to the Acquisition of Grammar. In: Jordens, Peter. 1996. Investigating Second Language Acquisition. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 71-86.
  • Swan, Michael and Smith, Bernard. 1988. Learner English – A Teacher’s Guide to Interference and Other Problems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Weinreich, Uriel. 1953. Languages in contact. New York.
  • Wendt, Michael. 1993. Die drei Dimensionen der Lernersprache. Tübingen: Narr.


Other languages

German Interferenz