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The acquisition of word order in L2 Spanish

The acquisition of word order in L2 Spanish. Dr Laura Dom í nguez Dr Mar ía J. Arche am94@gre.ac.uk University of Greenwich April 30, 2010 Spanish & Portuguese Series, UMass, Amherst. In this talk.

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The acquisition of word order in L2 Spanish

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  1. The acquisition of word order in L2 Spanish Dr Laura Domínguez Dr María J. Arche am94@gre.ac.uk University of Greenwich April 30, 2010 Spanish & Portuguese Series, UMass, Amherst

  2. In this talk • Examine the L2 acquisition of word order variation, in particular subject inversion in Spanish. • Suggest that subject verb order difficulties cannot entirely be accounted for as a pragmatic deficit, as has been claimed in several recent studies.

  3. Word order variation issue in learner Spanish • English: SV(O) order (1) John bought the newspaper • Spanish: SV(O), VOS, VS(O). (2) Juan compró el periódico Juan bought the newspaper S V O (3) Compró el periódico Juan bought the newspaper Juan V O S (4) Compró Juan el periódico bought J the newspaper V S O

  4. Intransitives (1 DP argument) • English (5) John sneezed SV (6) John arrived SV • Spanish (7) a. Juan ha estornudado SV J has sneezed b. Ha estornudado Juan VS has sneezed J (8) Ha llegado Juan VS has arrived J

  5. Fixed vs. free order? • Spanish word order is not free meaning ‘wild’. • Spanish subject verb order is ruled by: • Syntactic constraints: structure of verbs. • Unergative verbs: sneeze, snore, dream, dance… • Unaccusative verbs: arrive, come… • Pragmatic constraints: discourse adequacy depending on information status of the elements of the sentence. • New information • Old information

  6. Syntactic constraints. Unergatives SV and VS orders possible in Spanish. • SV: V raises to T (Pollock 1989); subject raises to [Spec, TP] • VS: V raises to T and Subject remains in its base generating position [Spec vP] (Koopman & Sportiche 1991) (9) TP (Subj) TP T vP Subj vP v VP V (DP) (object) Subjects can stay in situ because [Spec TP] can remain empty in Spanish (“pro-drop language”)

  7. Syntactic constraints. Unaccusatives VS only order in Spanish: • V raises to T (Pollock 1989) and Subject remains in situ, sister position to V. (10) TP TP T VP V DP (Subj)

  8. English (unergatives) • Subjects must raise to [Spec, TP] • T lowers to V (11) TP Subj TP T vP Subj vP v VP V (DP) (object)

  9. English unaccusatives SV only order: • V lowers to T and Subject raises to [Spec, TP]. (12) TP Subj TP T VP V DP (Subj)

  10. Pragmatics constraintsInformation Structure • New information (focus) vs. old information (topic) • What happened?  elicit all new information. The whole sentence is considered to be focused. • Who V-ed?  only the subject is new information.

  11. We assume that focus conveys new, non-presupposed information and that it must be the most prominent element in a sentence prosodically  (Chomsky, 1971, Chomsky, 1976, Jackendoff, 1972). • (13) a. What has happened? b. Marta ha estornudado Marta has sneezed S V • (14) a. Quién ha estornudado? Who has sneezed? b. Ha estornudado[F Marta] has sneezed Marta V S All new info Only the subject new info • Cinque (1993), Reinhart (1996) and Zubizarreta (1998): assignment of prominence at sentence level is dependant on the position that elements take in the sentence. • In languages like Spanish main stress is sentence-final by default.

  12. L2 speaker task • Acquire new syntactic regulations • V to T movement • pro in [Spec TP] • Acquire discourse regulations • New info must align with main sentence stress • Main sentence stress is sentence final in Spanish New info must appear in final position

  13. Previous studies and findings • Use of null subjects and postverbal subjects are acquired late and are a source of problems at even advanced levels of proficiency (Ocampo 1990, Hertel 2003, De Miguel 1993, Camacho 1999, Liceras and Díaz 1999, Lozano 2006, Domínguez 2008). • Phenomena lying in the interfaces (e.g. syntax / discourse) are more prone to instability than structures that are part of the interface between syntax and other non-peripheral grammatical areas (Sorace 2000, 2004, 2005, Tsimpli et al 2004).

  14. Subject inversion difficulties explained as a pragmatic deficit (Lozano 2006): knowledge of core syntax is unimpaired, only long-lasting problems with pragmatics constraints on subject inversion. • ‘Optionality’ shown by learners taken as evidence to support the Interface Hypothesis : violations of conditions at the syntax-pragmatics interface typically lie on a gradient of acceptability (optionality) whereas violations of syntax with other interfaces give rise to clear ungrammaticality (Sorace and Serratrice 2009).

  15. Our study Aims: • To test nonnative knowledge of syntactic and pragmatic constraints of inverted structures in Spanish by native speakers of English. • To test whether a gradient of acceptability exists with syntax only and syntax-pragmatics interface structures.

  16. Participants

  17. Structures targeted

  18. Experimental Design Context dependent word order preference test • 4 items in 7 syntactic/pragmatic contexts: • 4 x SVO • 4 x VOS • 4 x CLLD • 4 x Unaccusative/ Broad • 4 x Unergative/Broad • 4 x Unaccusative/ Narrow • 4 x Unergative/Narrow 28 situations: What happened?(broad focus) Who did x?(narrow focus) 3 possible answers: a. inverted b. non-inverted c. both

  19. Predictions: • A syntactic deficit will result in low acceptance of VS inversion with unaccusatives in broad focus contexts. • A pragmatic deficit will result in a gradient of acceptability in narrow focus contexts with both unaccusative and unergative verbs. • If learners have a pragmatic deficit, they will also show a gradient of acceptability in other constructions affected by focus, such as CLLDs. • Only lower proficiency learners will reject the option not available in their L1 (i.e. VS).

  20. Results Acceptance of the target inverted structure significantly increases with proficiency Native speakers unexpectedly accepted inversion significantly less with unergative narrow focus structures than with the other two types.

  21. Optionality in the advanced group is unexpected for this scenario since the subject is not forced to appear postverbally to fulfil a discourse-pragmatic function. Consequently, Hypothesis 2, which predicts optionality only in narrowly-focused contexts, is not supported. The unexpected high acceptance of the inverted structure in this context could be explained if learners had overgeneralized inversion from the unaccusative to the unergative contexts.

  22. Unaccusative broad focus (which is not constraint by focus) did not facilitate a preference for the inverted option for the advanced group. Differences between undergraduates and native speakers were significant (p = 0.0286).

  23. Advanced group: optionality

  24. Advanced speakers behaved like native speakers in their preference for inversion . • This result does not support Hypothesis 2, which predicts optionality in this • scenario, affected by discourse-pragmatic conditions. • Corroborates Hypothesis 3, which does not predict optionality • in this particular case due to lack of ambiguity in the input.

  25. Discussion Deviant optionality in SV/VS order cannot be explained as a pragmatics deficit. SV/VS forms were allowed independently of the syntax of the verb (unaccusative or unergative). In CLLD constructions, subject to pragmatic constraints, the VS inverted order was correctly preferred.

  26. Discussion • Beginners and intermediate learners show behavior consistent with the rules of their L1 preferring the non-inverted option in all syntactic and pragmatic contexts. This shows that knowledge of word order pattern is acquired late. • Advanced learners consistently accept the inverted option (beyond L1 transfer) over the non-inverted option but their pattern of responses is not affected by the type of verb (unergative or unaccusative). • Although advanced learners accept both options as possible, they consistently do so in all contexts including those where pragmatic effects don’t force the subject to appear postverbally (i.e. unaccusative broad focus). • Clear preference for the inverted option in CLLD scenarios by advanced, which shows that word order variation is not always problematic due to a pragmatic deficit.

  27. Conclusions • Our data do not support the hypothesis that structures at the interface syntax-pragmatics are more unstable than the structures within core syntax (against the IH) • This is also supported by research on L1 acquisition showing that pragmatically marked structures are not delayed in children’s grammars. • Observed gradient of acceptability (i.e. optionality) is not a reliable indicator of interface instability.

  28. Robustness vs. apparent ambiguity in the input seems to play a role (Papp 2000) Advanced L2ers perform native-like in CLLD where input is not ambiguous Availability of optional forms should be accounted for as a syntactic deficit which signals the existence of an intermediate stage of grammar restructuring.

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