The use of English relativizers by non-natives

A comparison of Danish, Serbian and Slovene students


  • Richard Skultety Madsen Technical University of Liberec
  • Melita Koletnik University of Maribor



This paper presents a study of the acquisition and use of English relativizers by non-native university students of the English language. Danish students of English Business Communication, Serbian students of general English studies and Slovene students of Translation Studies serve as informants for this work, which is quantitative and comparative in nature. The informants' mastery of English relativizers is investigated by questionnaire surveys. The study tests 3 hypotheses concerning challenges that the learners are likely to face due to possible interference from their mother tongues. The study does not only address the hypotheses themselves, but also possible ramifications for the theory of cross-linguistic influence. Two of the hypotheses are shown to be valid, showing that cross-linguistic influence is indeed real. The hypotheses in question concern the correct choice of relativizer with respect to animacy, and the misuse of whom in subject position. The results regarding the third hypothesis, i.e. concerning problems thought to be specific to Danish informants, are inconclusive, suggesting that cross-linguistic influence alone cannot explain all the challenges that non-native users of a language face.






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