|Title:||Transitivity alternations in SLA: A crosslinguistic study of English, Spanish & Turkish||Add Dissertation|
|Author:||Silvina Montrul||Update Dissertation|
|Email:||click here to access email|
|Institution:||McGill University, Department of Linguistics|
|Linguistic Subfield(s):||Syntax; Language Acquisition;|
|Abstract:||This thesis studies the L2 acquisition of transitivity alternations in English, Spanish and Turkish within the Generative framework. In particular, it sets out to investigate the interaction of universal principles and L1 knowledge in interlanguage grammars, as well as whether similar patterns of development are observed across typologically different languages. The focus is on verbs that participate in the causative/inchoative alternation, verbs whose lexico-semantic composition-[x CAUSE [y BECOME predicate]]-is not matched by morphological derivation uniformly across, and even within, languages.
The thesis adopts a templatic account to verb classes. Verbs are decomposed into primitive semantic predicates (CAUSE, BECOME, BE) which map onto an X-bar configuration as the heads of light verbs. Thematic roles like Agent and Theme occupy the specifiers. Different verb classes-alternating, transitive non-alternating, unaccusative and unergative verbs-derive from the interaction of semantic subpredicates and thematic roles. Transitivity alternations are determined by other narrower aspects of meaning: namely, the nature of the Agent role and the CAUSE subevent. Causative and anticausative morphology is the overt manifestation of the CAUSE and BECOME subpredicates.
Causative errors in L1 acquisition have been attributed to the overgeneralization of the causative/inchoative alternation to unergative and unaccusative verbs. This study proposes that these errors result when children incorrectly map non-alternating transitive and intransitive verbs onto a default transitive template. By extending this proposal to the L2 acquisition situation, it is hypothesized that L2 learners of Turkish, Spanish and English of different language backgrounds and at lower proficiency levels also rely on this universal mechanism when learning transitivity alternations; L1 influence only plays a role with the overt/non-overt morphology of alternating verbs in these languages.
Three independent but methodologically identical experimental studies on English, Spanish and Turkish as second languages are presented. Overall, results of a Picture Judgment Task confirm the hypotheses in the three studies. This work argues against the Full Transfer/Full Access Hypothesis (Schwartz & Sprouse 1996) as a theory of L2 competence and advances a modular view of Transfer which proposes that L1 influence does not affect all linguistic domains in the same way.