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Optionality and overgeneralisation patterns in second language acquisition: Where has the expletive ensconced «it»self?

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Nadia Varley

This book discusses the nature of optionality in second language grammars and the indeterminacy observed in second language users’ linguistic representations. For these purposes, experimental data from 213 learners of German and 150 learners of Russian have been collected and analysed with a special focus on the acquisition of various «subjectless» and impersonal constructions as well as argument licensing. Whereas voice alternations and argument licensing are topics amply discussed in theoretical domains, their practical implementation within second language research has remained a research lacuna. This piece of work intends to fill the gap.

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1. Introduction

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23 1. Introduction Over the past several decades there has been a bulk of generative literature on second language acquisition (henceforth L2A) (cf. Clahsen & Muysken 1986, 1989; Lardiere 2008, 2011; Meisel 1983, 1991; Montrul 1999, 2011; Slabakova 2010; Sorace 1993, 2000, 2005, 2011; White 1985, 1989, 2000, 2003, 2011a, b, to name but a few). The object of investigation ranges from discussions of second language (L2) parameter resetting, e.g. verb raising and pro-drop parameters, through first language (L1) transfer to the role interfaces play in the acquisition of L2 grammar. To the best of my knowledge, the acquisition of a particular class of impersonal subjectless constructions in both L2 German and L2 Russian1 has been left unattended so far (but see Sopata 2005 for an important exception as regards L2 German). In order to compare the vulnerability of different interfaces (syntax- morphology and syntax-discourse in particular, and to a certain extent syntax- semantics), several types of constructions are analysed. Their attainment by second language speakers (L2ers) across four levels of acquisition is assessed. Building on two ad hoc conducted studies, I explore the rate of the L2 acquisition of arguments and voice alternations by measuring passivation and anticausativi- sation sensitivity, as well as the argument licensing preferences of L2ers. Some of the questions comprising the present discussion ask why language acquirers overuse expletive elements in their L2 German (1.1) or overgeneralise the anti- causativisation -sj(a) morpheme in L2 Russian (1.2): (1.1) (German) Gestern wurde (*es) auf dem Schiff getanzt....

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