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Title:Testing the null subject parameter in adult second language acquisition: A study of Vietnamese and Spanish speakers learning English
Author(s):Platt, Elizabeth Jane
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):McClure, Erica F.
Department / Program:Education
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Education, Language and Literature
Language, Linguistics
Education, Educational Psychology
Abstract:This study of adult second language acquisition (SLA) tests a hypothesis proposed for first language acquisition (FLA) within the Government and Binding framework of Chomsky's Extended Standard Theory (1981,1986). A grammatical judgment task was used to elicit data about late learners' mental representations of two aspects of English grammar. The two features of English are claimed to be related by means of a parameter, a dimension along which languages may vary, and which relates several covarying features. First, learners speaking languages (L1s) which allow referential and expletive subjects to be null in tensed clauses must learn that English requires an obligatory subject. Second, they must learn certain properties of the English auxiliary system, namely the environments in which they are required and their position with respect to other sentence elements. In this study these two features were operationalized by means of grammatical judgment task. Two groups were tested, speakers of Spanish for whom referential subjects may be null because agreement features on the verb identify them, and speakers of Vietnamese for whom subjects may be null because of discourse deletion.
Consistent with the parameter-setting claim of Hyams (1986) and the supporting evidence of Hilles (1986), the results demonstrate a relationship for the Spanish L1 group between the obligatory subject and the English auxiliary system. However, the relationship is not in the direction Hyams (1986) proposed, but instead in the opposite direction. A plausible explanation for these data overall lies within the parameter-setting framework. Spanish speakers experience a delay in the resetting of the parameter because they falsely assume English to have the properties of an agreement language. It is argued that the Vietnamese results demonstrate an independent mastery of each of the two main variables types. Although neither transfer nor developmental theories satisfactorily account for the overall pattern of results, each helps explain the findings on some specific variables.
Issue Date:1989
Rights Information:Copyright 1989 Platt, Elizabeth Jane
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9010988
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9010988

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