The Bilingual Mental Lexicon and Lemmatic Transfer in Second Language Learning

Longxing Wei


There have been numerous studies of first Language (L1) transfer in second Language (L2) learning. Various models have been proposed to explore the sources of language transfer and have also caused many controversies over the nature of language transfer and its effects on interlanguage. Different from most previous studies remaining at a surface level of observation, this study proposes an abstract approach, which is abstract because it goes beyond any superficial observation and description by exploring the nature and activity of the bilingual mental lexicon in L2 learning. This approach adopts the Bilingual Lemma Activation Model (BLAM) (Wei, 2006a, 2006b) and tests its crucial assumptions and claims: The bilingual mental lexicon does not simply contain lexemes but abstract entries, called “lemmas”, about them; lemmas in the bilingual mental lexicon are language-specific; language-specific lemmas in the bilingual mental lexicon are in contact in L2 learning, lemmas underlying L1 abstract lexical structure may replace those underlying L2 abstract lexical structure. Lemmas in the bilingual mental lexicon are about three levels of abstract lexical structure: lexical-conceptual structure, predicate-argument structure, and morphological realization patterns. The typical instances of L1 lemma transfer in L2 learning are discussed and explained in support of the BLAM.

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