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The L2 acquisition of Spanish non-nominative subjects by adult L1 English speakers

Cazzoli-Goeta, Marcela A. (2006) The L2 acquisition of Spanish non-nominative subjects by adult L1 English speakers. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This study investigates the adult second language (L2) acquisition of non- nominative, non-agentive subjects, a particular feature of the Spanish language also shared by other Indo-European and South Asian languages. The existence of non- nominative elements in Spec, IP with subject-like properties is well-documented in the literature. One of the first attempts to account for this phenomenon in Romance languages is Belletti and Rizzi (1988) on Italian. Masullo (1992, 1993) extends the analysis to Spanish, proposing the Non-Nominative Subject (NNSub) Parameter, whereby a language allows NNSubs as part of its core grammar only if nominative case is assigned in situ. Spanish NNSubs can appear in unaccusative, dethematized, as well as impersonal constructions, and can be dative, accusative, or locative. These constituents are shown in Masullo (1992, 1993) not to occupy an A-bar position above IP, like topics and left-dislocated constituents, but rather Spec, IP, moving from the VP to satisfy the Extended Projection Principle. Languages like English and French, in which nominative case is checked in Spec, BP, disallow NNSubs.The aim of this study is to understand the processes involved in the acquisition language (LI) in the process of acquisition. A study involving three groups of adult English L2 learners of Spanish at a British university and a control group was carried out to determine if L2 learners with a [-NNSub] LÍ setting can reset the parameter to the Spanish [+NNSub] value. The learners belonged to one of three language levels: Intermediate, Advanced and Advanced+ according to the number of years spent at university and their contact with Spanish in a Spanish speaking country. The test battery involved an aural preference task, an elicited imitation task, and a picture description task. Hypothesis A predicted that Intermediate L2 learners would show clear L1 effects on their data and that the NNSub parameter would not show resetting. Hypothesis в predicted that the more advanced L2 learners would be able to reset the NNSub parameter to accommodate NNSubs and dative case in their interlanguage. Results from the aural preference and the elicited imitation tasks show correspondence between the results per category in both tasks. Knowledge of unaccusativity and NNSubs develops steadily up to the Advanced level but it suffers a decline with the Advanced+ learners. Results from the picture description task show that competence increases from the Intermediate to the Advanced level but that the percentage of non-target forms either stays at the same level or goes up with respect to the Advanced+ group. This regression seen in the Advanced^ data might be explained by the recent exposure to naturalistic input that the Advanced learners had just had. The L2 data do not show enough evidence that the NNSub parameter has been reset. Most of the grammatical utterances contain the verbs gustar 'like' and doler 'hurt', verbs which are part of the teaching curriculum. On the other hand, grammatical utterances involving other unaccusative verbs with NNSubs are rare. The fact that teaching of these verbs is insufficient does not help the L2 learners overcome the learnability problem posed by the input. This problem stems from the L2 input not showing clear-cut signals to tell learners which verbs require a NNSub. In addition to this, native speakers' use of optional structures to substitute the constructions with NNSubs makes NNSubs even less salient in the input.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:2006
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:09 Sep 2011 09:52

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