Composite Abstract Lexical Structure in Interlanguage Production

Xuexin Liu, Longxing Wei


Most previous studies of difficulties in learning a second/foreign language focused on sources of learner errors caused by cross-linguistic differences in various levels of linguistic structure, but most of such studies remain at a rather superficial level of description. This study explores sources of learning difficulties at an abstract level by studying the nature and activity of the bilingual mental lexicon during interlanguage production. The bilingual mental lexicon is defined as the mental lexicon containing abstract entries called cross-linguistic “lemmas” underlying particular lexeme. This study claims that it is language-specific lemma which drives interlanguage production at three levels of abstract lexical structure: lexical-conceptual structure, predicate-argument structure, and morphological realization patterns. It further claims that it is cross-linguistic lemma variations in abstract lexical-conceptual structure which result in not only inappropriate lexical choices but also errors in interlanguage production of target language predicate-argument structure and morphological realization. Naturally occurring interlanguage production date for the study include several native and target language pairs: Japanese-English, Chinese-English, and English-Japanese. Some typical instances of language transfer involving other language pairs are also cited in support of the argument that the lexical-conceptual approach to interlanguage production is fundamental in any study of the nature of learner errors in interlanguage development.

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