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Title: From intrusive to resumptive : the acquisition of wh-dependencies by Behdini learners of English
Author: Toma, Shivan Shlaymoon
ISNI:       0000 0004 5921 2286
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2016
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The acquisition and development of syntax in L2 learners has been one of the most interesting topics for psycholinguists. The interest arises from the desire to understand how language structure is processed in the minds of the learners and whether this processing is language specific or universal irrespective of the linguistic background of the learners. This dissertation consists of two studies. The first one is a native speaker Judgement Elicitation Task (JET), to ascertain the nature of resumptive pronouns in Behdini and English. 30 Behdini native speakers from Iraqi Kurdistan and 24 English native speakers from the UK and the USA took part in it. It was shown that Behdini features true resumption, but RPs are not truly optional, and they are less marked than in English and subject to complex variability patterns, which appear to be associated with the interaction of split ergativity and the higher subject restriction. The only non-variable case is possessive structures, which show categorical requirement for RPs. English was confirmed to feature intrusive pronouns, which are not grammatical RPs but tend to be used in island constructions to rescue the ungrammaticality. Based on the results of this JET, predictions were designed for the second study. The second study is a self-paced reading task (SPRT), which investigates the acquisition of a syntactic aspect of English wh-structures in Behdini Kurdish-speaking adult learners. It is an attempt to find out how Behdini learners of English learn the distribution of intrusive pronouns and gaps in English islands and wh-structures. It involved reaction time (RT) measurement, in which 34 Behdini learners of English (whose proficiency, measured by cloze test, ranged from 50% (Intermediate) to 92% (Highly Proficient) and 20 English native speakers took part. There were 36 sentences, presented once with a gap and once with a resumptive in randomised order (total: 72). Judgements were on a 4-point scale (ok - ok but difficult to understand - marked - bad). This study assumes a number of SLA theories, including the Interpretability Hypothesis (Tsimpli & Dimitrakopoulou, 2007), the Full Transfer Full Access Hypothesis (Schwartz & Sprouse, 1996), and the Variational Model of Language Acquisition (Slabakova, 2008). The study reports that Behdini learners acquired the correct distribution of gaps in most structures, but they over-accepted the RPs even at high proficiency levels. Therefore, RPs were transferred from L1 grammar into the L2 interlanguage. The processing part of the experiment reports that L2ers were relying on implicit knowledge, rather than explicit knowledge, to make their judgements. Proficiency was observed to have an effect on processing ungrammatical sentences more slowly than grammatical sentences similarly to native speakers. The variational learning hypothesis captures such differences as competition between grammars, i.e. representational (albeit driven by frequency patterns in the input). More proficient learners get more target-like in structures with gaps, so the grammar that licenses them is getting reinforced. The lack of improvement in the rejection of RPs can be captured by complementing the Variational Learning Hypothesis with the Inhibition Hypothesis, which explains such pattern of over-acceptance as a processing effect.
Supervisor: De Cat, Cecile Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available