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 may also be perceived as informal due to linguistic factors, i.e. cross-linguistic influence resulting from 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 the analysis of texts produced by Danish students of English Business Communication and for comparison also Spanish students of English Business Communication. 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 most research has focused on errors due to L1 influence, this project sets out to investigate the extent to which cognates play a role in the register (formality) of the lexis of Danish users of English as a second language. Furthermore, recipients’ evaluations of texts will be examined in order to find out what characteristics recipients would attribute to the sender with regard to formality and possibly personality.
Apart from lexis, the project will examine syntactic features of register (formality) to the extent that these result from lexical choices, e.g. the occurrence of phrasal verbs and the occurrence of the objective dative (resulting from the use of verbs of Germanic origin). Syntactic L1 influence on L2 is a very extensive subject, so for the purposes of this project, focus will be maintained on syntactic features related to lexis.