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GRS LX 700 Language Acquisition and Linguistic Theory
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GRS LX 700 Language Acquisition and Linguistic Theory

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  1. GRS LX 700Language Acquisition andLinguistic Theory Week 10a. L2 morphology v. functional projections

  2. Morphology • In L1A, we observe that kids don’t always provide all of the morphology that adults do. • Traditionally, it was assumed that kids are learning the morphology and the syntax and that at some point they got it (say, when they provide correct morphology 90% of the time when it was required).

  3. Morphology • A major recent development in the study of how kids come to know the (by now, known to be fabulously complicated, but yet relatively language-independent) system of syntax was in the observation that morphological errors are by no means random. • In particular, in a large number of languages, what seems to happen is that kids produce nonfinite forms of the verb—but along with that comes the syntax associated with non-finiteness.

  4. German and L1A CP • So, in German. • When a 2-year-old uses a finite verb, it goes in second position; when a 2-year-old uses a nonfinite verb it remains at the end of the sentence (after the object). C DP IP C+I ate John I — — VP V — DP lunch

  5. Functional categories • So, even though kids will sometimes use nonfinite verbs, they know the difference between finite and nonfinite verb and know how the grammar treats each kind. They are using T correctly. They just sometimes pick the wrong (nonfinite) one. • Now, adult L2’ers also drop a lot of morphology, will produce nonfinite forms… • This raises the question (in the general ballpark of “how much is L2A like L1A?”) as to whether second language learners show this effect as well.

  6. Functional categories • Rephrasing a bit, what we’re talking about is essentially the structural complexity of the learner’s (L1A/L2A) knowledge (at a given point). • It has been pretty well established by theoretical linguistics that adult native languages are quite complex, containing functional phrases like AgrP, TP and CP, and there is a lot of support for this idea that most if not all parametric differences stem from properties of the abstract functional morphemes (often reflected in surface morphology).

  7. Functional categories • Verb movement (if it conforms to the rules of adult native-speaker verb movement, anyway) serves as evidence for this complex functional structure, since the verb moves into a functional head (T, for example). • The evidence we just reviewed suggests very strongly that kids learning German and French produce sentences which comply with the rules of adult syntax (that make reference to this complex functional structure). Kids seem to “know about” the TP and the CP and the rules that pertain thereto.

  8. What is the relation between morphology and functional structure? • To the extent that we try to use morphological realization to diagnose functional structure, the answer to this question is important. • Obviously, it’s not just about the surface form: • A deer always eats my bagel. Deer are funny. • A goose always eats my bagel. Geese are funny. • A wug always eats my bagel. Wugs are funny. • I cut my bagel. I had cut my bagel. I will cut my bagel. On Tuesdays, I cut my bagel with a penknife. • She went to class. She had gone to class. She will go to class. On Tuesdays, she goes to class sans bagel. • She wrote a letter. She had written a letter. She will write a letter. On Tuesdays, she writes letters about bagels.

  9. What is the relation between morphology and functional structure? • So, there is at the very least an abstract level of morphology, perhaps related to the distinctions that the surface morphology can make. • Point is: regardless of the surface realization, plurals act plural, finite verbs act finite. • This suggests a kind of separation between syntax and morphology.

  10. Rich agreement to syntax • There is a longstanding observation, not really originating in the acquisition literature, that languages with rich agreement morphology tend to also be the languages that allow null subjects, move the verb to T. • Various attempts have been made to try to make this an implicational relationship: The agreement paradigm determines the features in the syntax (e.g., strong features forcing V to move T). (Vikner, Rohrbacher) • This would make acquisition easier—but it also doesn’t seem to really work. There are verb-raising languages without rich morphology, for one thing.

  11. Syntax to morphology • A different view, perhaps a bit more widely adopted, is that the syntax makes available the features and structures upon which the morphology operates. • We might even think of this as an abstract tree that is first built, and then “pronounced” in a second step. • Distributed morphology (Halle & Marantz 1993, see also Schütze & Wexler 1996) works basically this way—the syntactic features determine the morphological shape, but as a second step, after syntax is done.

  12. [+3sg +pres] = -s [+past] = -ed — = Ø [+masc +3sg +nom]play+[3sg+pres] he plays. [+2sg +nom]play+[2sg +past] you played. You may remember this from a previous class. And the question is still relevant: But is this knowledge built-in? Hint: no. [+masc, +3sg, +nom] = he [+masc, +3sg, +gen] = his [+masc, +3sg] = him [+fem, +3sg, +nom] = she [+fem, +3sg] = her [+1sg, +nom] = I [+1sg, +gen] = my [+1sg] = me [+2, +gen] = your [+2] = you Morphology and functional categories

  13. [+3sg +pres] = -s [+past] = -ed — = Ø [+masc +3sg +nom]play+[3sg+pres] he plays. [+2sg +nom]play+[2sg +past] you played. You may remember this from a previous class. And the question is still relevant: But is this knowledge built-in? Hint: no. An important part of how this system works is in the “defaulting” behavior: If the more conditions for the more specific rule don’t match the features available from the syntax, turn to the next less specific rule. This is a means of explaining the syncretism in paradigms: multiple abstractly different forms sharing the same surface form: I played. You played. She played. I play. You play. She plays. Morphology and functional categories

  14. [+3sg +pres] = -s [+past] = -ed — = Ø [+masc +3sg +nom]play+[3sg+pres] he plays. [+2sg +nom]play+[2sg +past] you played. You may remember this from a previous class. And the question is still relevant: But is this knowledge built-in? Hint: no. The morphological paradigms differ across languages, as do their patterns of syncretism. This needs to be learned. The building blocks may be available courtesy of UG, but the patterns themselves have to come from the input. For L1’ers, we don’t see a lot of evidence for incomplete learning of this mapping, they generally have it down as soon as we can tell whether they do or not. Still, there are sometimes default forms (bare verbs) which we’ve attributed to a working morphology and a deficient syntax. (In targeted ways—e.g., missing TP or AgrP or their features) Morphology and functional categories

  15. [+3sg +pres] = -s [+past] = -ed — = Ø [+masc +3sg +nom]play+[3sg+pres] he plays. [+2sg +nom]play+[2sg +past] you played. You may remember this from a previous class. And the question is still relevant: But is this knowledge built-in? Hint: no. For L2’ers, it’s just as necessary to learn these paradigms (=morphological rules). What might happen if, in the heat of an argument, the morphological component fails to retrieve the more specific rule? He played the trombone last night. No! He never plays the trombone! play [3sg, pres] [+3sg+pres] = -s [+past] = Ø — = Ø No! He never play the trombone! Morphology and functional categories

  16. Functional categories • The question we’re about to look at is whether adult second language learners also have the same complex structural knowledge (as native speakers and/or as demonstrated by L1’ers) in their IL. Do L2’ers “know about TP” in other words? • Note that if L2’ers can usually produce sentences which are grammatical in the TL but yet don’t “follow the rules” which are associated with that structure (i.e. that only finite verbs move to T), we do not have evidence that their mental representation of these sentences includes the higher functional phrases like TP.

  17. The responsibilities of TP/AgrP • Several studies have found that while inflection appears to be relatively poor, other things that Agr/TP are responsible for seem to be there.

  18. Prévost and White (1999, 2000) • Prévost and White (1999, 2000) investigated the question of how other reflexes of finiteness correlate with overt morphology… • Essentially: Can Poeppel & Wexler (1993) style results be obtained by L2’ers? • Like kids do during L1A, second language learners will sometimes omit, and sometimes provide, inflection (tense, subject agreement) on the verb. • Does lack of inflection correlate with the verb being treated as a non-finite form syntactically?

  19. Prévost and White • Prévost and White try to differentiate two possibilities of what their data might show, given that second language learners sometimes use inflected verbs and sometimes don’t. • Impairment Hypothesis. The learners don’t really (consistently) understand the inflection or how to use it. Their knowledge of inflection is “impaired”. Their trees don’t contain the functional XPs. • Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis.The learners will sometimes pronounce finite verbs in their infinitive form (the verbs act finite, the functional XP’s are there, but the learner couldn’t find the right inflected form in his/her lexicon in time, so s/he used the nonfinite form). The nonfinite form is essentially a default.

  20. Prévost and White • Possibility 1 (impairment) suggests basically no correlation between verb movement and inflection. • Possibility 2 (mispronouncing a finite verb by using its nonfinite form) predicts that • When the finite form is pronounced, the verb will definitely be (and act) finite—it will move. • When the nonfinite form is pronounced, it might act finite or nonfinite.

  21. Prévost and White • P&W looked at spontaneous speech data from two adults learning L2 French (from Moroccan Arabic, after a year) and two adults learning L2 German (from Spanish and Portuguese, after 3 months). Monthly interviews followed for about 2 years.

  22. Prévost and White found… • Almost no finite (inflected) verb forms in non-finite contexts. • That is: It is not random. • When verbs are marked with inflection, they systematically (overwhelmingly) appear before negation (i.e., they move). • Many of nonfinite forms used in finite contexts (used finitely, moved).

  23. Prévost and White • P&W’s data supports the hypotheses that: • (These) second language learners know the difference between finite and nonfinite verbs. • They know that finite verbs move, and that nonfinite verbs do not move. • The only real errors they make are essentially lexical retrieval errors (errors of pronunciation), pronouncing verbs which are abstractly finite in their infinitive form. • One question: Why the infinitive? Is it really an unmarked form universally? Does it depend on what the citation form is? Is it due to the language-particular morphology?

  24. L2A and L1A • One thing this tells us is that, despite possible appearances to the contrary, second language learners’ interlanguages are quite systematic and complex, and the L2 learners have the same kind of abstract structural knowledge incorporated into their IL that we can argue for in the case of L1 learners.

  25. L2A and L1 • We don’t know really to what extent “UG” played a role, based only on this—after all, we know that the L1 had the full structural complexity of a natural language, including the distinction (perhaps abstract) between finite and nonfinite, and including (perhaps abstract) subject agreement, etc. There’s no reason that knowledge of the distinction between finite and nonfinite couldn’t simply carry over (“transfer”) to the IL during L2A.

  26. Morphology ≠ syntax • This suggests that morphology is rather distinct from syntax. It is possible to have the syntax right and the morphology wrong. And to some extent, morphology is not provided by UG, must be learned, and moreover must be retrieved. • The view of Distributed Morphology under which morphology is a separate system given the task of pronouncing a syntactic structure (and which allows for the sort of defaults we seem to see) seems well suited to describe this.

  27. Morphology ≠ syntax • Various other studies describe a similar dissociation; obligatory subjects, subject case, and verb position are all governed by syntactic features/parameters attributed to functional projections. And while L2’ers seem to get these right, they are inconsistent with the morphology. (See White ch. 6; Lardière, White, Schwartz, Prévost, …)

  28. Schwartz (2002) • In 2002 at the BUCLD, Bonnie Schwartz presented data of this sort looking at the gender agreement and definiteness properties of Dutch DPs, with the aim being to determine whether child L2 acquisition was more like child L1 acquisition or more like adult L2 acquisition. • What she found was that in terms of overgeneralizing morphology (overuse of uninflected adjectives), adult L2’ers did it, but neither child L1’ers nor child L2’er did. But in terms of word order, both kinds of L2’er went through a word order stage not attested in child L1’ers’ development.

  29. Schwartz (2002) • Schwartz concluded that • child L2 is like child L1 wrt morphology • child L2 is like adult L2 wrt syntax • Again, a dissociation between morphology and syntax. • Why? Morphology is surface-evident and frequent, why is there such difficulty?

  30. thoughts re: Schwartz (2002) • Jeff Lidz brought up the question of whether this might be due not so much to morphology, but to a phonological effect. Either in terms of an input filter (like the French discussion earlier) or in terms of a production constraint. Phonological problems could in many ways mimic morphological problems.

  31. thoughts re: Schwartz (2002) • Harald Clahsen brought up an interesting point with respect to processing: there are processing results that indicate that adult L2’ers “need longer” to process incoming data. While I’m not sure exactly what studies he had in mind, taking that as given, perhaps the problem with morphology is that it just “comes too fast.” In the same kind of way that phonological filters might keep morphological marking out of the “input data”, processing constraints might also have this effect.

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