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 <>

Date: 14-Dec-2012
From: Elena Koulidobrova <>
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                             Syntax
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 oflanguage interaction effects observed in linguistic patterns ofmultilingual children. Such effects—often described as syntactictransfer/influence of one of the languages on the other—have beenrichly documented in the multilingualism literature. I review aninfluential model (Hulk & Müller 2000) of these effects and propose analternative, which I demonstrate to be more consistent with theframework 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. MacSwan1999), which, for a variety of reasons, I label ‘language-synthesis.’ Itamounts to the presence of elements from different languages in oneNumeration and requires that such language alternation beunconstrained unless independently blocked.

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

This approach, I suggest, accounts for certain transfer effects foundin the speech of bimodal bilinguals: the presence of certain lexicalitems from ASL (deemed responsible for argument ellipsis) in aNumeration otherwise containing lexical items from English may resultin ASL-style argument ellipsis in bilinguals’ English. Moreover, becausein relevant ways, bimodal bilinguals behave differently from unimodalbilinguals, the dissertation appeals to the unique nature of bimodalbilingualism as a testing ground for language interaction effects inmultilinguals.

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