LINGUIST List 7.1288

Sat Sep 14 1996

Sum: "Passive" ergatives in L1 acq

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. oshita, Sum: "passive" ergatives in L1 acq

Message 1: Sum: "passive" ergatives in L1 acq

Date: Sat, 14 Sep 1996 02:31:57 PDT
From: oshita <>
Subject: Sum: "passive" ergatives in L1 acq
Dear Linguists,

About a week ago, I posted a query on hypothetical errors in L1
acquisition of English. I first repeat the original query and then
list the people who responded and comment on their messages.

1. The Original Query:

Errors in which ergatives (or unaccusatives) are superficially
"passivized" are not uncommon in L2 acquisition of English by
non-native speakers of various L1 backgrounds. For example,

(1) *My father was died last year
(2) *A strange incident was happened before my eyes
(3) *This kind of problem is existed in my country, too
(4) *A little green man was appeared out of the spaceship

It is my understanding that such errors do not appear in child L1
English. Are there observations in the L1 acquisition literature
against this generalization?

2. Respondents:
I thank the following people who responded to my message.

Richard Ingham (
Nigel Duffield (DUFFIELDLANGS.Lan.McGill.CA)
Jan Odijk (
Anthony C. Tang
Charlie Rowe

3. Summary and Comments

Anthony Tang and Richard Ingham confirmed my suspicion that the kind
of error is not produced in child English--Anthony based on his
observation on his own two children and Richard based on his work on
corpus-based study of L1 English acquisition. Nigel suggested that I
look at a paper by van Hout and Weissenborn in Verrips and Wijnen
(eds) "The Acqusisition of Dutch, vol.1" (Univ. of Amsterdam??)

No one has brought up a counter-observation or a reference which shows
that such an error is actually produced in L1 English. I hope this
will reflects the "truth" concerning the L1 situation, but am not
totally sure if it's not simply due to lack of interest in the
original query.

Concerning the L2 errors I mentioned in the query, some people
expressed their suspicion that they are simply reflections of a
corresponding structure in the learner's native language, i.e. the
composite past (perfective) structure in languages like Italian,
French, German, Dutch, etc. In this view, the error is caused by a L1
transfer of an equivalent structure. For evidence that this is not
the case, I simply refer interested readers to Virginia Yip's
excellent work on L2 English by Chinese speakers, "Interlanguage and
Learnability: From Chinese to English" (John Benjamins 1995)
(especially Chap. 5) and Makiko Hirakawa's experimental study on
Japanese speakers' poduction and judgment on "passive" ergatives in
English ("L2 Acquisition of English Unaccusative Constructions". In
Proceedings of the 19th Boston University Conference on Language
Development. Cascadilla Press 1995). "Passive" ergatives are often
produced by these two L1 groups but neither language has a
corresponding structure like French "passe' compose'" and Italian
"passato prossimo".
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