Sunday, April 24, 2005

Hebrew prepositions and SLA.

Okay, who knows something about Hebrew prepositions?

I have a friend who's a native speaker of Hebrew and an adult second language learner of English. I've noticed some interesting patterns with his preposition use, whereby he'll often choose a preposition that's just slightly off in utterances where there's only one grammatical choice for English. So he'll say things like

1. *He agreed to the other guys.
2. *Everyone rented an apartment at those days.
3. ?*How long have you been in that team?
4. *The students are divided to smaller groups.
5. *Last year she went to a trip with me.
6. *They went there at the old days.

The patterns are very regular, and I'm sure they're known to people working on this sort of issue in SLA. And I've observed similar patterns among other native speakers of Hebrew. Now I'm aware that prepositions are really tough to get right for lots of adult learners of English (and I can say from experience that they're hard for adult learners of other languages too). What I'm wondering is what it is about Hebrew prepositions that produce the particular patterns that I see here. Does Hebrew have fewer prepositions, each of which maps into multiple forms in English? Or are the details of the particular preposition patterns that I observe common to adult learners of English coming from all linguistic backgrounds? Do people who speak other languages natively display other analogous patterns that differ somewhat in the details?

5 Comments:

Anonymous Michael Kaplan said...

Still pining for that technical blog, huh? :-)

Hebrew actually has a lot less than other languages in the way of prepositions. The common one for many of these examples is a Lamed (ל, or U+05dc HEBREW LETTER LAMED). It means 'to' and 'for' and 'at' and others in different cases.

Hebrew does not distinguish between the different uses, as far as I can tell. Other than the context, I mean. I could see how a native Hebrew speaker would have difficulty with the distinctions.

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Susan said...

Okay, so I'm no native speaker of Hebrew and I'm certainly not a linguist, but to add to what Michael said, another common preposition is the "b" (I have no idea how he got the letters up there, it's the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet) which can mean "in" and "with" depending on context.
But, okay, like in your first sentence, the word for "agreed" in Hebrew would actually be followed by the "l" preposition that Michael mentioned, so I can see how literally translated from Hebrew it would be "he agreed to..."

Anyway, just my very amateur $0.02 on that.

1:50 AM  
Anonymous Michael Kaplan said...

Hey Susan! Geek that I am I actually knew the code points (this is not a point of pride for me, I think it limits my dating prospects!), but you can also get them from Character Map in Windows (yours is ב or U+05d1, HEBREW LETTER BET).

I think your 2¢ is considerably more valuable than you give it credit for, though. You are completely right here! :-)

3:31 AM  
Anonymous joshua said...

hey kieran!

my experience with French (and teaching English for French speaking adults) is that the prepositions are deterministically different. "a" is usually, but not always 'to' or 'a', and "de" is usually, but not always 'from' or 'of'. "de" can sometimes mean 'to' though.

my students had a hard time mapping the french prepositions to the english ones, because the patterns seemed random; however, while complicated, the patterns were consistent. Its been a while, so I've lost a lot of the French and unfortunately cant explain more clearly...

10:16 PM  
Blogger oldangelgirl said...

Sorry to be a random comment leaver, but I'm actually majoring in Linguistics and minoring in Hebrew and French, so your question interested me.

The reason that your Hebrew speaking friend uses prepositions in the way he does is because those are the prepositions that would be used in those cases in Hebrew. So Susan and Joshua were right. He's translating it straight across, not realizing that we use different prepositions in those instances in English.

Hope this was helpful. :)

2:59 PM  

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