ELTE BTK Magyar Nyelvtudományi és Finnugor Intézet

Dal Pozzo, Lena (Firenze)

nyomtatható változat

Second Language Learning at the syntax-discourse interface: new information focus and null subjects in Finnish


The syntax-discourse interface is a domain that can reveal subtle differences between the first language (L1) and the second language (L2) grammars providing an interesting domain of investigation. This study is part of a bigger research project started by Belletti & Leonini (2004) and Belletti, Bennati & Sorace (2007) on answering strategies (cf. Belletti 2006, 2008) used by L2 speakers of Italian in contexts in which the subject is new information. The theoretical framework is the cartographic one (Cinque 2002, Rizzi 2004) with particular interest in the articulated left periphery (Rizzi 1997, 2002) and in the vP periphery (Belletti 2004) which are assumed to host the relevant topic and focus positions.
The experimental design was adapted to Finnish and 10 L2 adult speakers of Finnish were tested. The control group consists of 15 native speakers of Finnish.
The test consists of 22 short videos in which target questions on the subject (as new information focus) are presented. The participants were asked to answer orally in the most spontaneous way using a verb in the answer. The verbs were classified in transitives, unergatives and unaccusatives. The kind of the experimental task should avoid possible non-natural, “formal”, answers (plausibly used in e.g. written tasks) and elicit the answering strategies available to the speaker in the most natural experimental setting. The topic under investigation is particularly interesting because it can provide further understanding of the subtle syntax-discourse interface in L2 acquisition not only from a theoretical point of view but also from a “practical” one, that is, in second language teaching and learning.
The L1 of the participants is Italian and their L2 is Finnish: their starting point is a null subject language with a referential pro and the target language is a partial null subject language, null subjects are allowed for 1st and 2nd persons but not for 3rd persons (except under special circumstances of co-reference in embedded clauses (Holmberg 2009, Modesto 2008) and some other exceptional contexts, e.g. weather verbs). Moreover, null subject languages are assumed to allow free inversion in subject new information discourse contexts, resulting in the V(erb)S(ubject) linear order.
The aim of the study is twofold: first to observe which are the available answering strategies to L2 speakers of Finnish, given the preferred strategies in Finnish L1. Second, if there are any attrition effects or influences from the L1 to the L2 grammar the non target production of L2 speakers. In particular, if there is: i) a higher rate of null subjects than in native speaker production, ii) some instances of VS order of the kind observed in NSL.

Language of the paper: English
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