Chapter published in:Foreign Language Education in Multilingual Classrooms
Edited by Andreas Bonnet and Peter Siemund
[Hamburg Studies on Linguistic Diversity 7] 2018
► pp. 127–150
L3, the tertiary language
The fact that learners of a new language often already have experience of one or more other non-native languages has come into focus with the growing interest in multilingualism as a linguistic phenomenon and multilingual education as a practical concern. Third language or L3 has become a regular term fairly recently in dealing with the complex constellations of languages that occur with multilingual speakers and exploring the roles of these languages in the acquisition process. The purpose of the present chapter is to examine and discuss the construct of L3 in the context of the individual speaker’s multilingual repertoire and language learning. I first touch upon the wide occurrence of bi- and multilingualism in the world of today, especially as promoted by globalization and modern communication technology, and individual multilingualism (plurilingualism) as the normal form of linguistic competence that develops in human speakers. I then discuss the speaker/learner’s linguistic repertoire as a dynamic complex system, as well as the mutual connection between the developing repertoire and the process of language use and acquisition in specific situations in time. What we mean by L3 is seldom reflected on in the literature on so-called third language acquisition (TLA). In defining L3, we should ask what kind of concept we need in order to represent a speaker’s non-first non-native language. It should be a concept which is cognitively grounded and compatible with the terms L1 and L2 as these are commonly used in SLA studies. This leads to a definition of L3 and a discussion of its cognitive role as “tertiary” in relation to pre-existing L1s and L2s. Cross-linguistic influence becomes more complex when more background languages than a single L1 are involved, since both L1s and L2s can become activated in the process. Recent literature has explored a range of factors that may determine which language will dominate as source language when acquiring an L3, and formed conflicting hypotheses regarding their relative strength. I examine some problems that are reflected in this research, including the “L2 status issue”. This has implications for understanding the potential benefit of a multilingual language background in language learning.
Keywords: Factor Model, L2 status factor, L3 definition, language learning chronology, multilingualism, repertoire of languages, tertiary language, third language acquisition
Published online: 24 October 2018
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