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Title:Production and comprehension of verb agreement morphology in Spanish and English child L2 learners: evidence for the effects of morphological structure
Author(s):Morales, Alexandra
Director of Research:Montrul, Silvina A.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Montrul, Silvina A.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Hualde, José Ignacio; Bowles, Melissa A.; Ionin, Tania
Department / Program:Spanish, Italian & Portuguese
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):second language acquisition
verbal morphology
Abstract:Verbal inflections are problematic for both first language (L1) and second language (L2) learners in both comprehension and production and take a while to develop. Most research has mainly looked at this phenomenon from the perspective of functional features and has tried to ascertain whether or not learners have the grammatical knowledge or representation of the L2. However, although insightful, research has failed to look in greater detail at how the structure of the target-language may affect learners’ production and comprehension of verbal morphemes. In L1 acquisition, it has been found that the structure of the language may have an effect on children’s verbal morphology acquisition. However, it is basically unknown whether this is also true for L2 acquisition or, if in contrast, all child L2 learners show similar patterns of verbal morphology acquisition regardless of the L2. The present study addresses this issue and investigates whether child L2 learners learning typologically distinct languages show similar acquisition of verbal morphology. In order to address the study’s objectives, the acquisition of agreement morphology in school-age children learning Spanish and learning English as L2 was evaluated. Thirty two English-speaking children with ages ranging from 7;5 to 10;11 years (M = 8;9), were tested in the United States. All of these children were enrolled in an immersion program and had started learning Spanish when they were between 4 and 7 years old (M= 4.9). Additionally, 32 Spanish-speaking children, with ages ranging from 7;7 to 9;9 years (M= 9;0), were tested in Puerto Rico. All of these children were enrolled in an immersion program and had started learning English when they were between 4 and 5 years old (M=4.3). The results revealed that the children learning Spanish showed high accuracy in producing Spanish 3rd person plurals and performed native-like in comprehending verbal agreement. In contrast, the children learning English exhibited low accuracy in both the production and comprehension of verbal agreement (3rd person singular -s), and did not reach native-like performance in any of the tasks. These results suggest that there may be some parallelism between verbal morphology acquisition in L1 children and verbal morphology acquisition in child L2 learners. In both, the morphological structure of the language seems to play a role in the process of acquisition. The findings reported here for child L2 learners suggest that highly and regular inflected systems (e.g. Spanish) will be acquired at a faster rate than poorly and inconsistent inflected languages (e.g. English).
Issue Date:2014-05-30
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Alexandra Morales
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-05-30
Date Deposited:2014-05

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