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Title: Pronominal subjects in the English of Arabic, Finnish and French speakers
Author: Alsaedi, Naif Saeed Mohammed
ISNI:       0000 0004 7227 2814
Awarding Body: Newcastle University
Current Institution: University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Date of Award: 2017
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Previous studies designed to investigate whether null-subject parameter settings transfer in second-language acquisition (L2A/SLA) have produced inconclusive, differing, and even conflicting results. While some researchers claim that the first language (L1) value of the parameter does not transfer into L2A, others argue that it does; furthermore, they disagree about whether its L1 value could be reset to a value appropriate to the second language (L2) (i.e., White, 1985; Hilles, 1986; Phinney, 1987; Tsimpli and Roussou, 1991; Al-Kasey and Pérez-Leroux, 1998; Liceras and Díaz, 1999; LaFond, 2001; Sauter, 2002; Judy, 2011; Orfitelli and Grüter, 2013). The aim of this study is to address these issues in a more accurate way by paying attention to a number of factors both internal and external to learners that have been overlooked in previous studies, resulting in conflicting conclusions about null-subject transfer and parameter resetting in L2A. This study investigates the acquisition of the obligatory overt subject pronouns in English by three groups of learners whose L1s belongs to three distinct language types – namely, non-null subject languages (French), partial-null subject languages (Finnish), and consistent-null subject languages (Arabic). The participants in each group were divided into three subgroups – lower intermediate, upper-intermediate, and advanced – on the basis of their scores on the proficiency test in order to examine how the investigated L2 grammar changes at the different developmental stages in relation to the learners’ different native languages. The data were collected from 487 participants by means of a grammaticality judgement (GJ) task and a translation task. The findings from the GJ task show evidence that all learners, regardless of linguistic background, start off with pro-drop and then transfer their L1 parameter setting at the intermediate and late stages of L2A, whereas the findings from the translation task suggest that the L1 setting of the null subject parameter transfers in L2A. However, the results show that there are structural, developmental, and situational/contextual (realised as task-type) constraints on when, where, and to what extent pronominal subjects can be null. The results indicate that learners persistently accept referential embedded null subjects in the GJ task beyond the stage of L2 development when they have established the requirement for overt subjects in their production. Moreover, the results provide evidence that all participants, as proficiency subgroups, regardless of their L1 backgrounds, treated null subjects in the two types of experimental sentences differently; they accepted significantly fewer null subjects in complement clauses than in adverbial clauses. However, only the French participants converged on the target grammar in all respects; the Arabic and the Finnish participants continued to perform non-target-like like in their judgement of null subjects, if only in adverbial clauses. Group results indicating that L2 learners’ performance varies from task to task and from structure to structure suggest that null subject parameter settings cannot be reset in L2A. These findings, which show that there are structural and situational or contextual constraints on when and where pronominal subjects can be null, suggest that L2 learners rely on discourse licensing of null subjects. In other words, the results indicate that argument omission vs. overt expression in L2 depends on the referent’s discourse status, which can be defined in terms of a range of discourse and pragmatic notions. The results also raise and leave unanswered several questions that require further investigation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Taibah University
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available