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Volume 21 Number 1, Spring 2024, Pages 1-269   

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A Study on the Acquisition of English Prepositions by Japanese EFL Learners: Influence of Prototypicality, Semantic Relations, Familiarity, and L2 Proficiency

    Zuyang Jerrie Zhang & Remi Murao

Previous studies have generally stated that L2 learners have difficulty mastering English prepositions with less prototypical meanings, while some studies have shown the opposite. This suggests that prototypicality may not necessarily be the only influence on learning English prepositions. The current study examined the acquisition of prepositions in, on, and at by Japanese EFL learners and further explored the impact of prototypicality, L2 proficiency, semantic relations (temporal, spatial, and abstract usages), and familiarity on prepositional knowledge. The results showed that L2 competence is essential to obtain prepositions in abstract usages. In addition, a negative correlation was found between prototypicality and accuracy. There was also a significant interaction between prototypicality and familiarity, where the lower the prototypicality, the greater the influence of familiarity on acquisition accuracy. A higher level of familiarity compensates for the difficulty of the extension meanings brought to them by the prepositions, which occurs in different L2 proficiency groups. The error patterns found in the study not only can help teachers understand the complex extensions acquired by Japanese EFL learners but also provide a clear view of the difficulty encountered in the process of acquiring English prepositions.

Keywords: second language acquisition, prepositions, EFL, prototypicality, semantic relations