It has previously been found that Danes are regarded by British people as informal, which has been ascribed to cultural factors. This PhD project aims at testing the hypothesis that Danes choose informal words in English as a result of cross-linguistic influence, i.e. the lexical kinship between English and Danish as Germanic languages.
For historical reasons, the English lexicon is much more extensive than the Danish lexicon. The part of the English lexicon that was derived from Germanic (Anglo-Saxon and Norse) entered the language first, whereas the Latinate part of the English lexicon entered the language later and particularly through the domains of law, politics, science and the church. As a result, English has a larger number of synonyms and near-synonyms than Danish. Simple examples of this are freedom and liberty as possible translations of the Danish frihed, or holy and sacred as possible translations of the Danish hellig. It has been shown that where English has two or more synonyms or near-synonyms, Latinate words are more formal than words derived from Germanic.
On the basis of primarily quantitative methods, the project will test the hypothesis through a word choice experiment involving Danish undergraduate students of L2 English and for comparison also Spanish undergraduate students of L2 English and native English-speaking American undergraduate students. Research has demonstrated the existence of L1 influence on learners’ L2 vocabulary, not only in the case of beginners but also intermediate and advanced learners. Whereas much research has focused on errors due to L1 influence, this project sets out to investigate the extent to which genetic cognates play a role in the Latinate/Germanic word choice of Danish undergraduate students compared to Spanish and American undergraduate students.