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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Dissertation Information

Title: "The Unaccusative Trap": L2 acquisition of English intransitive verbs Add Dissertation
Author: Hiroyuki Oshita Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of Southern California, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 1997
Linguistic Subfield(s): Applied Linguistics;
Subject Language(s): English
Director(s): Maria Polinsky
William Rutherford
MarĂ­a Luisa Zubizarreta
Mario Saltarelli

Abstract: This study investigates the ways in which the division between unergatives and unaccusative-inchoatives within the general class of intransitive verbs affects the acquisition of English by adult nonnative speakers. Special attention is given to potential effects of learners' mother tongues, structural characteristics of interlanguage English, and developmental sequences. Primary data come from published studies in the L2 literature, a research corpus culled from the Longman Learners Corpus, and a grammaticality judgment test. The learners' L1s include, but are not limited to, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Korean. Previous research identified some non-target structures and phenomena such as the 'passivization' and transitivization of unaccusatives and learners' reluctance to accept inchoatives in the canonical NP-V word order. The corpus-based research has confirmed this general pattern and also found that unaccusative verbs are used in non-target postverbal NP structures such as it-V-NP mostly by native speakers of Italian and Spanish but not by those of Japanese and Korean. In order to account for these observations, I propose a three-stage developmental model, termed the 'unaccusative trap' hypothesis, in which each stage is characterized in terms of the status of the interlanguage lexicon and syntax. Specifically, I argue (i) learners, irrespective of their mother tongues, initially misanalyze the lexico-syntactic properties of unaccusative-inchoatives as those of unergatives, and (ii) the non-target structures and phenomena emerge when relatively advanced learners correctly differentiate the two subclasses of intransitive verbs lexically but resort to non-target syntactic operations, which may be influenced by their L1s. A number of predictions made by the 'unaccusative trap' hypothesis are further tested against data obtained from a grammaticality judgment test conducted on native Italian and Japanese speakers. The results confirm that unaccusative-inchoatives, in contrast to unergatives, present unique learning difficulties to L2 learners of English. This study strongly suggests that the 'unaccusative trap' is also present in other adult L2 acquisition contexts and that the existence and lack of 'unaccusative trap' may indicate a significant fundamental difference between adult L2 and child L1 acquisition.