LINGUIST List 14.2407

Fri Sep 12 2003

Diss: Syntax/Lang Acquisition: Tsang: 'The L2...'

Editor for this issue: Naomi Fox <>


  1. lctsang, The L2 Acquisition of English Finiteness...

Message 1: The L2 Acquisition of English Finiteness...

Date: Wed, 10 Sep 2003 02:22:09 +0000
From: lctsang <>
Subject: The L2 Acquisition of English Finiteness...

Institution: University of Cambridge
Program: Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2003

Author: Wai lan Tsang 

Dissertation Title: The L2 Acquisition of English Finiteness by
Cantonese Learners - A Generative Approach

Linguistic Field: 	Syntax 
			Language Acquisition 
			Applied Linguistics

Subject Language:	Chinese, Yue (code: YUH )

Dissertation Director 1: Ianthi Maria Tsimpli

Dissertation Abstract: 

This study investigates the acquisition of English finiteness by
Cantonese learners from two perspectives: syntactic and developmental.
Concerning the syntactic perspective, this account, upholding the
universal nature of finiteness across languages, advocates the
presence of this feature in Cantonese. Cantonese finiteness can be
viewed in terms of the notion of 'completion of an utterance.' It can
be realised by two lexical means: sentence final particles (e.g. le3)
arguably labelling finite utterances and adverbial conjunctions
(e.g. jan1 wai6 'because') introducing nonfinite ones. This
instantiation of finiteness in Cantonese strikes a contrast to the
English one. First, Cantonese finiteness is lexical but the English
counterpart is morphological. Second, while English finiteness is
marked obligatorily, the manifestation of Cantonese finiteness can be
optional: the nonfinite markers are obligatory while the finite ones
are not.

As to the developmental issue, the judgements of the Cantonese
learners as well as the native speakers did not display any
finite/non-finite distinction. Nevertheless, when the responses to
the ungrammatical test items were analysed, a difference between the
natives and the learners was discerned. The native speakers showed a
tendency to higher accuracy rates for ungrammatical finite items, with
one test structure reaching statistical significance. By contrast,
the L2ers' judgements revealed a predominantly nonfinite tendency.
This outcome (suggesting their non-native-like acquisition of English
finiteness) can be explained by the inaccessibility of finiteness, a
feature of the functional category in the lexicon, in the L2
acquisitional path (cf. Tsimpli (1996) and Hawkins and Chan (1997)).
The Cantonese learners could not acquire an interpretation of
finiteness other than the one in their L1. In other words, the
lexical realisation of finitenes is is likely to be retained in their
L2, resulting in the failure to make the finite/non-finite distinction
in the target language. Consequently, the syntactic patterns
corresponding to finiteness (and probably the morphological forms as
well) in their L2 grammar are deviant from the native ones.
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