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Title: Sensitivity to subject-verb agreement in second language sentence processing : evidence from L1 Persian speakers of L2 English
Author: Safaie , Ebrahim
Awarding Body: University of Essex
Current Institution: University of Essex
Date of Award: 2015
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Abstract:
Whereas variability in Second Language (L2) learners' use of Subject-Verb (S-V) agreement is uncontroversial, there is little agreement as to the causes of this variability in both SLA and L2 processing research. Theories differ as to whether this variability is related to a syntactic deficit in the hierarchical feature checking system or to surface realization of inflectional morphology. The purpose of the study is to investigate whether the agreement checking system is impaired in L2 grammar, and what the sources of difficulty are, if this system is not impaired. To explore the above questions, this study investigates the extent to which L2 learners of English are sensitive to S- V agreement errors with thematic verbs and copulas. Proficient Persian speakers of L2 English (i.e., L2 learners) participated in three online speeded grammaticality judgment tasks. Experiment 1 tests whether L2 learners perform more efficiently in S- V agreement with copula be than with thematic verbs (i.e., the suppletive-affixal asymmetry). This has been robustly reported in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research (e.g., Dulay & Burt, 1973; Lardiere, 1998a, b; Ionin & Wexler, 2002). The findings replicate those of the SLA research. These observations reveal that the agreement checking system is not impaired in L2 grammar; otherwise, L2 learners may not be able to check S- V agreement in copula be. The results also show that L2 learners are likely to have problems with both omission and commission errors. Yet, proficiency seems to be a strong predictor of native-like processing of S- V agreement. To tap into the agreement checking system empirically, experiments 2 and 3 examine the singular-plural mismatch asymmetry. This asymmetry refers to the occurrence of agreement attraction in singular subject-plural local noun configurations (e.g., The key to the cabinets) bu not the reverse pattern (e.g., The keys to the cabinet). This effect has robustly been confirmed in First Language (Ll) research (e.g., Bock & Cutting, 1992; Bock, et al., 1999; Pearlmutter, et al., 1999). Since agreement attraction occurs in the former configuration but not the latter, it has been suggested that the plural attract or in the former hierarchically percolates upwards to the head noun (the key) and overwrites its singular number leading to agreement attraction. In line with this robust effect, the results of experiments 2 and 3 reveal the effect of the mismatch asymmetry in both NSs and L2 learners. The results of these experiments are argued to be partially consistent with the Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis (MSIH) (Prevost & White, 2000), which asserts that the agreement checking system is not impaired in L2 grammar. However, L2 learners' problems with commission errors do not seem to support the MSIH which considers missing inflection as the source of variability.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.701425  DOI: Not available
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