Is there any known research on novel language features that are easy to acquire?

I'm most interested in language features that are unexpectedly easy to acquire despite not having an L1 equivalent (so the ease cannot be attributed to transfer).

An international auxiliary language will necessarily include some features that will be novel for some of the people it's intended for.

For example, English has post-nominal relative clauses and Mandarin has prenominal relative clauses and a prospective IAL would have to pick at least one strategy for encoding relative clauses. So some people speaking the language will be using a different word order than they're used to.

I've seen a few papers about second language acquisition regarding syntax and morphology that describe which new constructions are most difficult for specific groups. For example, L1 English speakers learning Mandarin have trouble with the topic comment construction. For example, they will sometimes reject grammatically valid sentences with the object in topic position when asked to distinguish grammatical and ungrammatical sentences.

I have also seen papers like this one that tested English speakers' ability to use a randomly-parameterized variant of a constructed language. The findings are interesting. English speakers are good at reproducing the SOV word order in a novel language, and bad at VSO. This is despite the fact that VSO occurs in English in questions.

  • 2
    Just a small note - I found postpositions (as in Hungarian) no brainer at all, despite my L1 being a stock Indoeuropean language. SImilarly, the amount of cases in Hungarian seems daunting, but it is actually rather easy, since these are very regular and just correspond to prepositions. Vowel harmony is trivial as well (the problem is broken harmony for some vowels); head-over-heels inflection of personal pronouns is easy, as well as inverted (relative to IE languages) possessives - everything this comes completely unexpected from the grammar point of view of a typical IE L1 speaker. Nov 12, 2021 at 5:27
  • Just about any feature could be considered easy to learn if it's relatively simple to explain and it's regular with very few uncommon irregularities. Vowel harmony, as @RadovanGarabík mentioned, is easy if it's something like Finnish: the class of the first vowel determines the class of the rest of the vowels in the word (more or less). Dec 22, 2021 at 20:43


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.