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LINGUIST List 23.5281

Sat Dec 15 2012

Diss: Lang Acq/ Syntax/ American Sign Language: Koulidobrova: 'When the Quiet Surfaces...'

Editor for this issue: Lili Xia <lxialinguistlist.org>

Date: 14-Dec-2012
From: Elena Koulidobrova <elena.koulidobrovaccsu.edu>
Subject: When the Quiet Surfaces: ‘Transfer’ of argument omission in the speech of ASL-English bilinguals
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Institution: University of Connecticut
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2012

Author: Elena V. Koulidobrova

Dissertation Title: When the Quiet Surfaces: ‘Transfer’ of argument omission in the speech of ASL-English bilinguals

Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition

Subject Language(s): American Sign Language (ase)

Dissertation Director:
Zeljko Boskovic
Diane Lillo-Martin

Dissertation Abstract:

The main research question of this dissertation is the nature of
language interaction effects observed in linguistic patterns of
multilingual children. Such effects—often described as syntactic
transfer/influence of one of the languages on the other—have been
richly documented in the multilingualism literature. I review an
influential model (Hulk & Müller 2000) of these effects and propose an
alternative, which I demonstrate to be more consistent with the
framework adopted in the dissertation (i.e. the Minimalist Program,
Chomsky 1995, i.a). In short, I argue that ‘language transfer effects’
are instances of a Minimalist-in-spirit code-switching (e.g. MacSwan
1999), which, for a variety of reasons, I label ‘language-synthesis.’ It
amounts to the presence of elements from different languages in one
Numeration and requires that such language alternation be
unconstrained unless independently blocked.

I focus the discussion on the predictions made by each of the two
models for argument omission between null- and non-null-argument
languages of a bilingual. Using longitudinal data from two balanced
A(merican)S(ign)L(anguage)-English bilinguals, I show that unlike the
cross-linguistic influence approach, the language-synthesis alternative
accounts for the distribution of null arguments in the children’s English.
On the way to this conclusion, I address an ASL-internal issue—the
nature of argument omission. I review the standard analyses of null
arguments in ASL and challenge them. Specifically, I argue that in non-
agreeing/-inflected contexts, the null argument in ASL is a case of
argument ellipsis of a bare singular NP and, resembles in many ways
Japanese-style argument ellipsis. Among the consequences of the
account are the status of morphological agreement and the nature of
the nominal domain in ASL. Essentially, the dissertation shows that
ASL behaves as though it does not project a DP.

This approach, I suggest, accounts for certain transfer effects found
in the speech of bimodal bilinguals: the presence of certain lexical
items from ASL (deemed responsible for argument ellipsis) in a
Numeration otherwise containing lexical items from English may result
in ASL-style argument ellipsis in bilinguals’ English. Moreover, because
in relevant ways, bimodal bilinguals behave differently from unimodal
bilinguals, the dissertation appeals to the unique nature of bimodal
bilingualism as a testing ground for language interaction effects in

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