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Title: A comparison of syntactic representation and processing in first and second language production
Author: Flett, Susanna
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2006
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In this thesis I present an empirical investigation into L1 and L2 syntax, using syntactic priming (Bock, 1986). I address whether syntactic representations are similar in L1 and L2 speakers, looking at structures that differ in terms of both functional (i.e., grammatical role assignment) and positional (i.e., linear word order) properties. I explore whether these representations are processed in a similar way across L1 and L2 groups, and what effect syntactic structures in the learners’ L1 have on L2 processing. Finally, I look at the extent to which L1 and L2 syntactic information is associated with specific lexical items. Experiments 1 and 2 showed priming of active vs. passive structures in both L1 and L2 (L1-English) speakers of Spanish at two different proficiency levels; L2 speakers showing stronger overall priming than L1 speakers, irrespective of proficiency. In all participants priming was stronger when the verb was repeated across prime and target. Experiment 3 showed priming of English dative structures in L1 and L2 speakers and demonstrated that when structures are equally acceptable for native speakers L1 and L2 groups show similar priming magnitude, even when a structure is absent in the learners’ L1. Experiments 4 and 5 dealt with the acquisition of word order preferences associated with different intransitive verbs in Spanish. L1 speakers preferred preverbal subjects with unergative verbs and postverbal subjects with unaccusatives, and were more susceptible to priming of postverbal word order with unaccusatives then unergatives. In contrast, L2 speakers were less sensitive to the unergative-unaccusative distinction. Experiment 6 found equal priming of unaccusative targets regardless of the nature of the type of prime verb. Results show broad similarities in the syntactic behaviour of L1 and L2 speakers, suggesting that L1 models of language production can be applied to L2 production, both at a functional and positional level. However, L2 speakers appear insensitive to constraints on use of particular structures in the target language, tending to overuse inappropriate syntactic options.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available