Date of Award

May 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics


Amanda Brown

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


Previous research has demonstrated persistent difficulties in learning spatial expressions in a second language (L2) (Ahlberg et al., 2018; Ijaz, 1986; Jarvis & Odlin, 2000; Mukattash, 1984; Munnich & Landau, 2010; Park & Ziegler, 2014). Recent studies have suggested that these difficulties may come from the learners' native language (L1) spatial conceptual systems, which remain persistent and influence conceptualization in second language acquisition (Ahlberg et al., 2018; Coventry & Garrod, 2004; Jarvis, 2016). Through a combination of triad picture matching and description tasks, the present study examined whether conceptual transfer is involved in L2 learning of Japanese spatial expressions among learners from two different L1s (Chinese and English) and two different proficiency levels (beginning and advanced).

Results of the study showed that although there were clear linguistic differences in spatial descriptions among languages, specifically in the adpositions used, the stimuli failed to yield clear cross-linguistic differences in spatial conceptualization. Thus, no evidence of L1 transfer to the L2 at the cognitive level was found, at least in these data. However, findings from the study also suggested that target-like conceptualization may be related to learners’ accurate use of L2 spatial expressions regardless of their L1 or proficiency. Thus, if learners can identify linguistic concepts underlying L2 spatial expressions, they may be more likely to use the expressions correctly. Further investigations are necessary to examine how and to what extent learners’ spatial categorizations are affected by learning new concepts in an L2, which conceptualization patterns might not be affected, and how the conceptualization systems are structured in bilinguals’ minds.


Open Access



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