Prepostions that index proficiency: a comparison of L1 and L2 writing in Danish

Line Burholt Kristensen, Marie-Louise Lind Sørensen

Forskningsoutput: KonferensbidragSammanfattningPeer review


For the weekend? On the weekend? At the weekend? In the weekend? Prepositions in a second language are notoriously difficult to master (Jarvis & Odlin 2000, Jarvis & Pavlenko 2008). Nonconventional use of prepositions may indicate disfluency and transfer from the learner’s native language. However, texts by native speakers also show variation in the use of prepositions, as conventions are subject to regional, group-based and individual differences (Brøndal 1940, Ojanen 1985). Non-normative use of Danish prepositions, especially in the language of Danish youth, is also frequently interpreted as crosslinguistic influence from English (e.g. Sørensen 2010). Here, we examine whether the two groups show distinct patterns, i.e. whether certain types of preposition anomalies are specific to language learners and can be used as an index of low proficiency. 
Our study compares variation in the use of Danish prepositions in two types of naturally occurring texts: Danish L1 texts and Danish L2 texts. The L1 texts are 27 essays (a total of 42.132 words) written by Danish high school students for a final exam in 2016. The L2 texts (5.685 words) were authored by 28 students with English as L1 who studied Danish at a language school in Copenhagen in 2017-2018. The analysis compares the two text types with respect to the frequency and types of preposition anomalies. We focus specifically on the prepositions til, i, på and for which are frequent in written Danish and have a semantic and distributional overlap with the English prepositions to, in, on and for. The results show that preposition anomalies are 10 times more frequent in the L2 texts. Both L1
texts and L2 texts exhibit cases of
- omitted prepositions, e.g. omitted på in tvivler [på] om (English translation: ’doubt [on] whether’),
- superfluous prepositions, e.g. anomalous use of til in besøge til, (English translation: ‘visit to’),
- confusion of two prepositions, e.g. anomalous use of fra instead of af in glemt fra [-> afderes familie (English translation: ‘forgotten from [->by] their family’).
In both L1 and L2 texts, there are anomalies that may be caused by crosslinguistic influence from English (especially when it comes to the Danish-English homograph for). Some anomalies are characteristic of L2 texts, e.g. overgeneralized use of til and i. Other anomalies seem exclusive to L1 texts, e.g. omitted preposition in parallel preposition phrases. We discuss the similarities and differences in conventional use of prepositions on the basis of syntactic and semantic analyses and outline how these results can be used as a basis for future experimental studies on the processing of language anomalies.
StatusPublicerad - 2021
MoE-publikationstypO2 Other
Evenemang5th Variation and Language Processing Conference - University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Danmark
Varaktighet: 25 aug. 202127 nov. 2021


Konferens5th Variation and Language Processing Conference
Förkortad titelVALP5


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