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Volume 19 Number 3, Autumn 2022, Pages 740-1140   

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The Modulating Role of Mean Dependency Distance in the Backward Transfer of L3 on the Interpretation of L2 Reflexives

    Hee-Don Ahn, Yongjoon Cho, Jong-Bai Hwang, Jung Hyun Lim & Cui Mao

Based on the supportive evidence for the existence of backward transfer of L3 on the interpretation of L2 reflexives detected by Ahn & Mao (2019), this paper explores potential factors that possibly affect the process of backward transfer of L3. Successful interpretation of reflexives--the searching for the antecedents to which the reflexives might be bound--is subject to the constraints of syntactic and discoursal factors, given that English is more syntactic-oriented, while Chinese and Korean are more pragmatic-oriented. The present study compares the accuracy rates in the Truth Value Judgment Task to examine the role of syntactic complexity in Chinese-English (CE), Korean-English (KE), and Chinese-English-Korean (CEK) language configurations. The results show that the Mean Dependency Distance (MDD) is a negative and significant predictor of the probability of accurate response in the TVJT. However, when the regression model is fitted by group, it is revealed that the regression coefficient of the MDD strikes a significant level with the CE and the CEK groups, but not with the KE group. The CEK group is more capable of rejecting the influence of syntactic complexity than the CE group, either because of their enhanced meta-linguistic knowledge or because of weakened reliance on syntactic constraints. The findings are in line with both the Cumulative Enhancement Model and the Foreign Language Effect Model.

Keywords: reflexive, L3 acquisition, backward transfer, Mean Dependency Distance