Lexical-Semantic Transfer and Strategies for Teaching and Learning Putonghua Vocabulary for Cantonese-speaking Learners




Cheng, Ka Ying
Li, Ying

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Office of the Vice President for Research


Language transfer refers to the language that learners apply to the knowledge of one language to the language that they are learning. According to Bransford (2000), "all new learning involves transfer based on previous learning." Language transfer includes positive and negative transfer. Positive transfer means the previous knowledge that the language learner obtains from the first language----phonetics, grammar, expressions, and so forth to help the learner learn the new language, while negative transfer means the previous knowledge interferes with the learner's ability to learn the new language. In the United States, the number of Cantonese speakers who choose to study Mandarin has grown increasingly. While a number of past studies have focused on the language transfer of the phonetics system of the two languages, few studies have paid attention to the semantics system. Cantonese and Mandarin belong to Sino-Tibetan languages family and shared similar characters and grammars, however, the meanings of words with similar characters are comparatively different. Generally speaking, Cantonese speakers encounter more difficulties when learning Mandarin because of this difference of semantics system. The present study focuses on the language transfer of the semantics system from Cantonese language to Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua). By adopting Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis method, the current study (1) analyzed the difference of the meaning of the vocabulary (973 words) from the book, "Great Wall Chinese textbooks"; (2) identified the positive and negative language transfer via comparing the meaning of the words in Cantonese and Mandarin; and (3) explored the strategies that Cantonese-speaking leaner and L2 Mandarin Chinese teachers can use in Mandarin teaching and learning.



Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua), Cantonese, language transfer, lexical-semantic transfer, L2 acquisition



Modern Languages and Literacy