Transfer effects in the acquisition of double object constructions in English as an L3

2014

Abstract  The present study examines the acquisition of double object constructions (DOCs) (John gave Mary a book) by Basque/Spanish learners of English as an L3. Previous research on the topic by L1 Japanese and Korean second language (L2) learners of English shows L1 influence and proficiency effects (Whong-Barr & Schwartz, 2002; Oh & Zubizarreta, 2006). Research on L2 Romance languages also reports proficiency effects and higher morphosyntactic than semantic accuracy (Cuervo, 2007). The three languages in this study, Basque, Spanish and English, present two types of dative structures: prepositional phrases (PPs) and DOCs. Basque DOCs are morphologically marked in the verb; in Spanish DOCs are expressed by means of clitic-doubling (Demonte, 1995) whereas English DOCs are restricted by word order constraints. Semantically, Basque objects could be interpreted as benefactive, goal and source depending on the predicate and the context. The Spanish object can be interpreted as recipient, source and possessor. DOCs in English show idiosyncratic restrictions, such as morphophonological rules (which exclude most Latinate verbs) as well as language specific semantic constraints. The aim of the present study is to investigate whether the differences between the three languages might impact the acquisition of English DOCs. Participants are expected to show positive transfer in similar structures. Negative blocking effects are expected in non-comparable structures but should be overcome by increasing proficiency. Sixty (60) Basque/Spanish bilinguals and 60 L1 Spanish learners of English completed two online acceptability judgments tasks: a self-paced reading task and an auto-paced reading task. Each task consisted of 24 PPs and 24 DOCs items and 48 fillers. Preliminary findings show positive transfer in PPCs. Negative blocking effects are found in DOCs both in cross-linguistic similar (i.e. possessor) and different constraints (i.e. morphological). Interestingly, the difficulties occur regardless of proficiency level.


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