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


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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2. Argument licensing and voice alternations


33 2. Argument licensing and voice alternations 2.1 Theoretical background The generative tradition has its roots in Chomsky’s seminal work Syntactic Struc‑ tures (1957), which has practically established the derivative approach and the notion of transformations. Chomsky has posited the well-known – and long- lived – distinction between surface (S-)structure and deep (D-)structure, the lat- ter being the underlying structure assumed to be invariant cross-linguistically. In subsequent work Chomsky has laid the foundations of a theory, which identifies a number of formal universals. Within the Government & Binding (GB) frame- work (Chomsky 1981) these universals are divided into (i) universal principles restricting grammar, and (ii) language-specific parameters established during the process of first language acquisition (L1A). Language acquisition is argued to be driven by Universal Grammar (UG), the latter being both a constrained set of universal linguistic principles and a biological precondition for language acquisition. In later work, Chomsky would refer to UG as “a theory of the initial state S0 of the relevant component of the language faculty” (Chomsky 1995: 167). Importantly, the differences across languages reduce to morphological varia- tion (Chomsky 1993) and to pure lexical differences in subsequent work (Chom- sky 1995 et seq.). In more recent papers, Chomsky (2004, 2005, 2008) argues that language must satisfy two interface conditions: those imposed (i) by the sensory-motor and (ii) by the conceptual-intentional system. According to this model, language has three components: Narrow Syntax, phonological and se- mantic components, of which both Narrow Syntax and semantics are universal, whereas the...

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