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On the Offensive

By Karen Stollznow

On the Offensive " This book sheds light on the derogatory phrases, insults, slurs, stereotypes, tropes and more that make up linguistic discrimination. Each chapter addresses a different area of prejudice: race and ethnicity; gender identity; sexuality; religion; health and disability; physical appearance; and age."



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Dissertation Information


Title: The Acquisition of Alternation in a Second Language Add Dissertation
Author: Patricia Vazquez-Lopez Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: University of Greenwich, PhD in Applied Linguistics
Completed in: 2016
Linguistic Subfield(s): Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition;
Director(s): María Jesús Arche

Abstract: This study examines the acquisition of alternation in a second language (L2) by focusing on the acquisition of the copular verbs in Spanish, ser and estar, by native speakers of English, who have only one copula (i.e. be). Specifically, this thesis focuses on copular cases with adjectival predicates, which can be classified into three groups: adjectives that combine only with ser (e.g. famoso ‘famous’), adjectives combining only with estar (e.g. contento ‘happy’) and those compatible with both but where only one copula is felicitous according to the context (e.g. nervioso ‘nervous’) (i.e. dual adjectives).


Two hypotheses were entertained, one dubbed as Syntactic Complexity, according to which the simpler an element is the earlier and better its acquisition is expected to be in an L2, and the Interface Hypothesis (Sorace, 1993; Sorace & Keller, 2005; Sorace & Serratrice, 2009; Sorace, 2011, among others), according to which elements whose value depend on an interface (e.g. syntax-discourse interface) are expected to be more vulnerable to acquisition. The first hypothesis predicts that ser, by virtue of its simpler syntactic structure (Arche, Fábregas & Marín, 2017), is acquired first and better. The second one predicts difficulties in the acquisition of cases where the two copulas are a possibility (i.e. dual adjectives) but only one copular verb is appropriate according to the context. To assess these hypotheses a cross-sectional elicitation study was carried out, which elicited the copular alternation through four, focused oral production and written comprehension tasks. The task design was especially tailored to each adjectival group. Tasks elicited copular clauses in 108 tokens, of which 36 included 6 only-ser adjectives and 6 only-estar adjectives and 72 tokens that contained 18 dual adjectives in contrasting discursive contexts, specifically 6 dependent-stage adjectives of physical appearance (e.g. viejo ‘old’), 6 dependent-stage adjectives of disposition (e.g. amable ‘kind’) and 6 self-standing stage adjectives (e.g. nervioso ‘nervous’). 71 English-speaking learners of Spanish and 25 native Peninsular Spanish speakers participated.


Results show that L2 acquisition is determined not only by the syntactic properties of the copulas themselves but also by the syntactic properties of the adjectival predicates. Learners were not more accurate with adjectives that have a fixed syntactic distribution than with those that are context-dependent. By contrast, advanced learners attained a native-like level with those adjectives that are grammatically possible in constructions where the property of stage-levelness (associated to estar) is not brought in only by the copula estar, but in other syntactic environments such as absolute constructions and subject predicative complements. That is, with only-estar adjectives such as contento ‘happy’ and dual self-standing stage adjectives such as nervioso ‘nervous’. In turn, they failed to achieve a target-like alternation when the copulas appear with dual dependent-stage adjectives of physical appearance (e.g. viejo ‘old’) and those of disposition (e.g. amable ‘kind’). Furthermore, results indicate that even learners at higher levels of proficiency have not fully acquired ser, leading them to misuse this copula in constructions where the copula expected was estar. This contradicts much previous research (Geeslin, 2000; Geeslin, 2003; Geeslin & Guijarro Fuentes, 2006; Woolsey, 2008; VanPatten, 2010; among others) that states that ser is easily acquirable.