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Dissertation Information

Title: The Null Subject in the Interlanguage: The case of Greek students of German as a Third Language Add Dissertation
Author: Stamatia Michalopoulou Update Dissertation
Email: click here to access email
Institution: Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Department of Linguistics
Completed in: 2015
Linguistic Subfield(s): Psycholinguistics;
Subject Language(s): English
Greek, Modern
Director(s): Athina Sioupi
Melita Staurou-Sifaki
Ianthi Maria Tsimpli

Abstract: The purpose of this dissertation is to investigate the interlanguage of people with Greek as mother tongue (L1), whose first foreign language is English (L2), when acquiring German as a second foreign language (L3).

The dominant topic of discussion of the theoretical and experimental approaches on the L3 Acquisition determines the source of linguistic transfer of syntactic structures and functional categories in the interlanguage of non-native speakers (NNS) in the L3 Acquisition. Since the NNS already know two languages, the source of linguistic transfer cannot be determined unless the studied syntactic phenomenon and parameter are differently valued at L1 and L2 and L3 is similar to or different with one of the two.

In this case we investigated the Null Subject Parameter, a parameter in which Greek and English have different values. Greek is a Null Subject Language and English is Non Null Subject Language. This, among other properties on the surface structure of language, means that in Greek a pronoun does not necessarily have to be realized in subject position, overt grammatical subjects may be omitted, (eg both ego pezo and Ø pezo are correct), while in English the pronominal subject must always be explicitly implemented in order to constitute a grammatically correct sentence (eg I play but not * Ø play). German is classified by many researchers as a Non Null Subject Language because in most cases German does not allow the omission of the overt grammatical subject (eg ich spiele but not * Ø spiele). In fact, also in German there are some instances, where omission of the overt grammatical subject is permitted, therefore current theoretical approaches classify German among Expletive Null Subject Languages. The cases where the overt grammatical subject can be omitted also in the German language are identified in the Passive Voice of specific verb classes.

Therefore, it is obvious that the Null Subject Parameter in German is realized in some cases, as in English and in others as in Greek. For this reason, this parameter was chosen to be studied.

In order to investigate the interlanguage of NNS an experimental study, consisting of two tasks, a Grammaticality Judgement Task and a Preference Task, was conducted. These tasks have measured the judgments and preferences respectively of three groups of participants. Two groups consisted of NNS with different level proficiency in German, but the same in English and the third group consisted of native speakers of German and served as control group.

The results of both experimental tasks show that none of the languages the NNS already known seem to play a more significant role than the other in shaping their interlanguage in both proficiency levels in German. Both languages seem to be equally important and available in order to provide an appropriate linguistic representation of the target - language at any given time.

According to this data it seems that the model, which best describes the interlanguage of the NNS is that of Flynn, Foley & Vinnitskaya (2004), namely, the Cumulative-Enhancement Model for Language Acquisition. According to this model it can be either only ''positive language transfer'' or no linguistic transfer at all of the languages already acquired by the NNS in their target L3.