Interlanguage Transfer of Function Words


  • I would like to thank the University of London Central Research Fund for having provided financial assistance with a travel grant and the University of Toronto Connaught Fund for further assistance. I would also like to thank Jean-Marc Dewaele and Scott Jarvis for their excellent comments on an earlier draft of this article. A previous version of this article was presented at the Third International Conference on Third Language Acquisition and Trilingualism, Tralee, Ireland, 2003.

Gessica De Angelis, Department of French, German and Italian, University of Toronto at Mississauga, 3359 Mississauga Road North, North Building 227, Mississauga, Ontario L5L 1C6, Canada. Internet:


This study investigated the use of nonnative function words in the written production of learners of Italian as a third or fourth language with English, Spanish, or French as native or nonnative languages. Results show the frequent use of the French subject pronoun il(he) in learners’ texts. The rate of subject insertion and omission was thus analyzed. English and Spanish first language (L1) speakers with knowledge of French were found to use significantly more subject insertion than speakers without knowledge of French. This suggests that (a) prior exposure to a nonnative language informs learners’ choices of surface structures to a significant extent and (b) learners with the same L1 but different prior nonnative languages develop some significant differences in their target language knowledge.