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Title: Syntactic development in the second language acquisition of French by instructed English learners
Author: Rogers, Vivienne
ISNI:       0000 0004 2686 8465
Awarding Body: Newcastle University
Current Institution: University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Date of Award: 2010
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This thesis seeks to empirically examine six contemporary theories of language acquisition by considering the acquisition of French word order by instructed English speaking learners. French and English differ in terms of surface word order with respect to negation, adverbs and object clitics. These differences are shown in the table below. Structure S-V-Neg-X S-aux-Neg-V-X S-Neg-V-X S-V-Adv-X S-Adv-V-X S-CI/Pro-V S-V-CljPro French elle ne regarde pas la tel€ *elle n'est pas regarder la tele *elle ne pas regarde la tele elle regarde souvent la tele *elle souvent regarde la tele elle la regarde *elle regarde la English *she watches not TV she is not watching TV *she not watches 'IV * she watches often TV she often watches TV *she it watches she watches it Table 1: Word order differences between French and English Pollock (1989) argues that these different word orders are due to one single parametric difference between the two languages - namely verb placement. Negation, adverbs and clitics are in fixed positions in the underlying structure. In French the verb undergoes movement whereas in English it does not. The difference between the two languages is argued to be the result of French having a strong uninterpretable Tense feature which requires verbs to move whereas English does not (Chomsky & Lasnik, 1995, Lasnik, 2007). The learnability issue for the English speaking L2 learner of French is acquiring this different Tense feature. In this thesis I will investigate the acquisition of these structures (negation, adverbs and object clitics) and will also consider the use of subject clitics to investigate potential parameter re-setting. This study seeks to empiricaliy test between three theories of the Initial State of L2 acquisition and three theories of L2 development. The Initial State theories tested are Minimal Trees/Organic Grammar (Vainikka & Young-Scholten, 1996, 2005), Full Transfer/Full Access (Schwartz & Sprouse, 1996) and Modulated Structure Building (Hawkins, 2001). These three theories all make different empirically testable predictions about the level of Ll transfer and the underlying structure of the Initial State. The theories of development tested are the Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis (Prevost & White, 2000), Representational Deficit Hypothesis (Hawkins & Chan, 1997) and Feature Reassembly (Lardiere, 2008). Again these theories make different predictions concerning possible parameter re-setting in L2 French. This study is therefore framed by the following research questions: A. What is the initial state in L2 learners of French? B. How do functional features develop in these learners? C. What is the role of the Ll feature settings in this development? I examine data from five groups of 15 instructed English speaking learners of French who have all been taught in the British school and university system. The beginner group (aged 12-13) has received one year of instruction, the low-intermediate group (aged 15-16) have had four years, the high-intermediate (aged 17-18) have received 6 years of instruction. The low-advanced group (aged 19-20) are in their second year of an undergraduate French degree and the high-advanced group (aged 21-23) are in their final year of undergraduate study and spent at least 5 months in a French speaking country. Ten native speaker controls were also tested. Results from two elicited oral production tasks, a comprehension task and an acceptability judgement task are presented and the theories of the Initial State and development mentioned above are evaluated in light of these results. The results show significant levels of Ll transfer in the Initial State and a gradual development of sentence structure. I argue that these results provide evidence against Full Transfer/Full Access and Organic Grammar and in support of Modulated Structure Building. In terms of development there are significant correlations between the use of verb raising with negation, adverb placement, object clitics and subject clitics for both the oral production task and the judgement task. This would support the view that parameter re-setting is possible supporting Feature Reassembly and counter Representational Deficit Hypothesis. There is also partial support for the Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis but further research is required. This thesis concludes that parameter re-setting is possible for instructed English speaking learners of French. However, learners build their syntactic representation gradually and transfer their knowledge of English at each stage before re-setting the parameter to the French values.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: AHRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available