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Adventures in English Syntax

By Robert Freidin

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Modality Across Syntactic Categories

Edited by Ana Arregui, Maria Luisa Rivero, and Andres Salanova

Modality Across Syntactic Categories "Chapters in the book demonstrate that modality involves many more syntactic categories and levels of syntactic structure than traditionally assumed."



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Dissertation Information


Title: The Acquisition of Probabilistic Patterns in Spanish Phonology by Adult Second Language Learners Add Dissertation
Author: Matthew Carlson Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Pennsylvania State University, Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese
Completed in: 2007
Linguistic Subfield(s): Morphology; Phonology; Psycholinguistics; Language Acquisition;
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Director(s): Judith Kroll
Chip Gerfen
Giuli Dussias
Dan Weiss

Abstract: This study investigated the processing of a gradient pattern in Spanish
morphophonology by two participant groups: 1) monolingual native speakers
and 2) intermediate to advanced English-Spanish bilinguals studying Spanish
at the University level. It used lexical decision tasks to measure their
sensitivity to the probability of unstressed diphthongs in novel
derivations with specific suffixes. This pattern is of interest because
there is a general constraint against unstressed diphthongs in Spanish, but
different derivational suffixes allow unstressed diphthongs to varying
degrees in existing derivations. Prior research using metalinguistic
judgments (Eddington 1996, 1998) has shown that native speakers’
preferences reflect the probabilistic biases of particular suffixes
regarding diphthongs.

This project extends these findings in several ways. First, it assesses the
extent to which intermediate to advanced bilinguals learning Spanish in
adulthood are also sensitive to this gradient pattern. Second, building on
prior research using written tasks, this study examines sensitivity to
morphophonological probability in the auditory modality. Finally, it brings
more sensitive measures of online processing to bear on this issue by using
the lexical decision paradigm. This aligns the present investigation with a
significant body of research examining the effects of phonotactic
probability, neighborhood density, and morphological structure on
monolinguals’ lexical processing (e.g. Baayen & Schreuder 2003, Carreiras &
Perea 2004, Frisch et al. 2000, Vitevitch & Luce 1999). At the same time,
it extends this research by examining bilinguals and by addressing
probabilistic variability in a higher-level phonological alternation that
is dependent on the paradigmatic properties of specific stems across
particular morphological contexts. In addition, this project evaluates the
role of study abroad and three measures of working memory and cognitive
control on learners’ processing of this alternation.

To examine the impact of this pattern on lexical processing, a set of
neologisms was constructed combining existing Spanish stems that contain
alternating diphthongs with a set of derivational suffixes. Suffixes were
chosen to represent a continuum from a strong bias toward monophthongs to a
strong bias for diphthongs, according to their frequency of cooccurrence
with unstressed diphthongs in existing Spanish words. Half of the
neologisms contained a diphthong, and the other half a monophthong. The
well-formedness of the test items was measured as the likelihood of the
diphthong or monophthong occurring with the given suffix. For native
Spanish speakers with minimal experience of other languages, more wordlike
neologisms led to an increased incidence of false positives in lexical
decision. A significant facilitation effect was also observed in reaction
times. These results are discussed in terms of the dynamic evolution of
lexical activation as the auditory stimuli unfolded over time. A similar
sensitivity to the gradient well-formedness of unstressed diphthongs was
observed in the adult learners of Spanish, but only in the reaction time
data. This supports the conclusion that the statistical distribution of
unstressed diphthongs across morphological contexts in Spanish impinges on
the timecourse of learners’ processing of neologisms, but not on their
behavior as reflected in errors in lexical decision. Study abroad and
working memory modulated these effects slightly.