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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 L2 Acquisition of English Finiteness by Cantonese Learners - A Generative Approach Add Dissertation
Author: Wai lan Tsang Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of Cambridge, Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics
Completed in: 2003
Linguistic Subfield(s): Applied Linguistics; Syntax; Language Acquisition;
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Yue
Director(s): Ianthi-Maria Tsimpli

Abstract: This study investigates the acquisition of English finiteness by Cantonese learners from two perspectives: syntactic and developmental. Concerning the syntactic perspective, this account, upholding the universal nature of finiteness across languages, advocates the presence of this feature in Cantonese. Cantonese finiteness can be viewed in terms of the notion of 'completion of an utterance.' It can be realised by two lexical means: sentence final particles (e.g. le3) arguably labelling finite utterances and adverbial conjunctions (e.g. jan1 wai6 ‘because’) introducing nonfinite ones. This instantiation of finiteness in Cantonese strikes a contrast to the English one. First, Cantonese finiteness is lexical but the English counterpart is morphological. Second, while English finiteness is marked obligatorily, the manifestation of Cantonese finiteness can be optional: the nonfinite markers are obligatory while the finite ones are not.

As to the developmental issue, the judgements of the Cantonese learners as well as the native speakers did not display any finite/non-finite distinction. Nevertheless, when the responses to the ungrammatical test items were analysed, a difference between the natives and the learners was discerned. The native speakers showed a tendency to higher accuracy rates for ungrammatical finite items, with one test structure reaching statistical significance. By contrast, the L2ers' judgements revealed a predominantly nonfinite tendency. This outcome ¾ suggesting their non-native-like acquisition of English finiteness ¾ can be explained by the inaccessibility of finiteness, a feature of the functional category in the lexicon, in the L2 acquisitional path (cf. Tsimpli (1996) and Hawkins and Chan (1997)). The Cantonese learners could not acquire an interpretation of finiteness other than the one in their L1. In other words, the lexical realisation of finiteness is likely to be retained in their L2, resulting in the failure to make the finite/non-finite distinction in the target language. Consequently, the syntactic patterns corresponding to finiteness (and probably the morphological forms as well) in their L2 grammar are deviant from the native ones.