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LINGUIST List 19.1039

Sat Mar 29 2008

Diss: Lang Acq: Cabrera: 'The Acquisition of Causative Structures i...'

Editor for this issue: Evelyn Richter <evelynlinguistlist.org>

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        1.    Mónica Cabrera, The Acquisition of Causative Structures in English and Spanish as Second Languages

Message 1: The Acquisition of Causative Structures in English and Spanish as Second Languages
Date: 29-Mar-2008
From: Mónica Cabrera <mcabreralmu.edu>
Subject: The Acquisition of Causative Structures in English and Spanish as Second Languages
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Institution: University of Southern California
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2005

Author: Mónica Cabrera

Dissertation Title: The Acquisition of Causative Structures in English and Spanish as Second Languages

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): English (eng)
                            Spanish (spa)

Dissertation Director:
Maria Luisa Zubizarreta
Jean Roger Vergnaud
Mario Saltarelli
William Rutherford

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation provides evidence in favor of the view that transfer is
developmentally constrained, i.e. different properties of the first
language (L1) are transferred at different levels of proficiency. The focus
is on lexical and periphrastic causative structures. Two experimental
studies were conducted with L1 English learners of L2 Spanish, and L1
Spanish learners of L2 English. Different properties of these structures
were teased apart, and their role in the L2 acquisition process was

English and Spanish lexical causatives have common constructional
properties. The causative construction can be instantiated by verbs
encoding change of state or location such as alternating unaccusatives, but
not by unergatives. In both languages, there is a subset of unaccusatives
that, although encode change, cannot appear in lexical causatives
(non-alternating unaccusatives). They have been analyzed as lexically
marked for the non-realization of their causative form. English and Spanish
are different in that in the former, but not in the latter,
manner-of-motion verbs can modify the causative construction in the context
of a goal prepositional phrase. Learners tended to overgeneralize
causatives especially at the beginner level, but mostly with predicates
encoding change. At the advanced level, overgeneralization was restricted
to verb classes allowed in lexical causatives in the L1. Learners make
selective use of their L1 knowledge: they transfer constructional
properties at the beginning, and lexical specific properties are
transferred later.

Periphrastic causatives in English and Spanish are similar in that they are
not restricted to a specific verb class, but they are different in word
order. Periphrastic causatives of alternating unaccusatives can express
direct causation in English, but not in Spanish. Some beginners tended to
reject periphrastic causatives due to word order, while others accepted
them with a direct causation interpretation. However, advanced L1 Spanish
learners clearly rejected this interpretation, but the L1 English group
still accepted it. Learners make use of different properties at different
levels: word order properties are used first, and interpretation
differences are transferred later.

It is concluded that learners transfer different properties of their L1
depending on their proficiency. Less marked properties seem to be used in
early stages, while more language specific ones are accessed later on.
Processability issues are considered as a possible motivation for selective

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