L2 learners and heritage
speakers: Exploring some
differences and similarities
Silvina Montrul
Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese
Acknowledgements
• University of Illinois Campus Research
Board Award (2000)
• Beckman Award from the Research
Board (2004-2005)
• The Center for Advanced Studies
(Spring 2005)
Assistants and collaborators
Graduate Students
Undergraduate Students
Mónica de Pedro
Justin Sánchez
Marisa Martínez Mira Beth Emody
Rebecca Phillips
Dan Thornhill
Silvia Perpiñán
Susana Vidal
Celeste Rodríguez Louro
My Research
SLA and Bilingualism
Adult L2 acquisition
L1 loss in bilinguals
My Guiding Assumption
Second language and bilingual grammars
are another source of linguistic facts
relevant to a theory of language,
rather than peculiar or deviant behavior
manifested in bilingual speech.
Goals
1. To uncover the systematic structural
(grammatical) properties of learner
language at different stages of
interlanguage development.
2. To explain how and why developing
and stable interlanguage grammars look
the way they do, and differ from those of
adult monolingual speakers and
children acquiring their L1.
Theoretical Linguistics
(generative
syntactic theory)
Psycholinguistics
Sociolinguistics
Grammatical Analysis
of Interlanguage and
Bilingual Systems
Monolingual and bilingual
L1 acquisition
SLA Theory
and Bilingualism
Languages
•
•
•
•
•
•
Spanish (mainly)
English
French
Turkish
Korean (with Ji-Hye Kim and James Yoon)
Chinese (with Zhijun Wang)
Some Research Questions
• Linguistic nature of interlanguage and bilingual
grammars
• The role of the “other” language in the L2
acquisition and L1 loss of a language
• Differential outcomes in adult L2 acquisition
and bilingualism (success and fossilization)
• Linguistic selectivity of language acquisition
and loss
• Differences and similarities between the
linguistic processes attested in L2 acquisition
and other instances of language change
(bilingual acquisition, diachronic change,
Creole genesis)
An example of my recent work
Systematic comparison between L2
learners who are acquiring Spanish as
an L2 with Spanish heritage speakers,
who are re-acquiring Spanish in a
language class.
L2 learners
(sequential or late bilinguals)
Adult learners who started learning the L2
after puberty (i.e., after critical period).
Instance of language acquisition
Heritage speakers
(simultaneous or early bilinguals)
Adults who as children were exposed to
two languages from birth--the family
language and the community
language--and who may be more
dominant in the community language.
Instance of incomplete acquisition/loss
L1 Attrition
The L1 is already in place.
Individual usually received some
schooling in his L1.
Erosion or loss occurs as a result of L1
disuse and intense contact with an L2,
typically after the critical period.
e.g. 1st generation adult immigrants
Incomplete acquisition
Individual was exposed to 2 languages
simultaneously or near simultaneously in early
childhood, but the community language is
presently stronger than the heritage language.
The heritage language is weaker either
because it was not acquired completely, or
because some aspects were lost (before a
critical period) (Silva Corvalán 2003; Vihman &
MacLaughlin, 1982).
e.g. 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants
General Research Questions
Does incomplete acquisition (before puberty)
resemble a particular stage of second
language acquisition (after puberty)?
Do heritage speakers have an advantage over
L2 learners?
Factors in Common
• Potential effect of another L (1 or 2,
majority language) (Pavlenko 2002,
Köpke 2002)
• Potential effect of universal linguistic
mechanisms
• Potential effect of reduced input
(exposure to L1 or L2)
• Frequency and degree of use of L1
and L2 (Köpke 2002)
Factors which differ
•
•
•
•
Age of onset of bilingualism
Nature and timing of input
Experience with explicit instruction
Literacy
Montrul (forthcoming in 2005)
Second Language Research 21, 3
The Unaccusative Hypothesis
Intransitive verbs are broadly classified into
unergatives and unaccusatives, depending
on the syntactic characteristics of the subject
(Perlmutter 1978).
For some linguists this difference is purely
semantic (Dowty 1991, Van Valin 1990); for
others the distinction is syntactic (Burzio
1986, Rosen 1984).
The unaccusative/unergative distinction is
universal, but languages vary as to the
syntactic reflexes of unaccusativity.
Examples
(1) a. John walked.
b. [John [VP walked ]]
unergative
(2) a. John arrived.
unaccusative
b. [ e [ VP arrived John]]
c. [Johni [VP arrived ti]]
Why Unaccusativity?
1. Important body of existing research on
L1 acquisition of Dutch, English,
Romance, Russian, etc.
2. Important body of existing research in
L2 acquisition of different languages.
For some linguists, this distinction is an
example of the poverty of the stimulus
problem (Van Hout 1996; Snyder, Hyams &
Crisma 1995; Hirakawa 2001)
Tests for unaccusativity in Spanish
A. Preverbal and Postverbal Subjects (Contreras,
1978)
unaccusative
Juan llegó./ Llegó Juan (preferred).
Juan arrived/arrived Juan
‘Juan arrived.’
unergative
Juan habló (preferred)./Habló Juan.
Juan spoke/spoke Juan
‘Juan spoke.’
B. Absolutive Constructions (de Miguel 1992)
unaccusative-telic
Caídas las piedras del cielo, los geólogos comenzaron a
investigarlas.
fallen the stones from the sky, the geologists began to
investigate them
unaccusative-atelic
*Existidos los dinosaurios, el planeta estaba poblado.
existed the dinosaurs, the planet was populated
unergative
*Hablados los turistas, se fueron de paseo al centro.
Spoken the tourists, they went for a stroll downtown
C. Bare Plurals as Postverbal Subjects
(Torrego 1989, cf. Aranovich 2000)
Unaccusative
Salieron marineros del puerto.
left
sailors of the port
Unergative
*Caminaron mujeres por la calle.
walked
women along the street
D. Passives
Unaccusatives
*Los marineros fueron llegados al puerto.
*‘The sailors were arrived to the port’
Unergatives
*Los niños fueron cantados en el coro.
*‘The children were sung in the choir.’
Sorace (2000)
• Many verbs (arrive, talk) display consistent
unaccusative and unergative behavior within
and across languages.
• Yet, other verbs (run, decay) show variable
syntactic behavior depending on aspectual
elements in the sentences in which they
appear.
• There is a semantic hierarchy of
unaccusative and unergative verbs, with
some verbs being ‘more’ unaccusative or
unergative than others, depending on their
lexical meaning.
Unaccusativity Hierarchy
Most unaccusative
change of location
change of state
continuation of a pre-existing state
existence of state
uncontrolled process
controlled process (motional)
controlled process (non-motional)
Most unergative
L2 Acquisition of Unaccusativity
Intermediate and quite advanced L2 learners
have persistent problems with unaccusative
verbs in English, Japanese, Italian, French
and Chinese.
Some errors attested in English:
passive unaccusatives
causativized (transitive) unaccusatives
avoidance of S-V order with unaccusatives
Unaccusativity in Spanish
Experiment 1:
Late bilinguals or L2
learners
Specific Research Questions
1. Do English-speaking adult L2 learners
of Spanish know about the syntactic
distinction between unaccusative and
unergative verbs in Spanish?
2. Does the semantic hierarchy proposed
by Sorace play a role in the acquisition of
these verbs in Spanish?
Hypothesis 1
If learners do not distinguish between
unaccusative and unergative verbs,
then they should treat all verbs alike in
the relevant constructions.
Hypothesis 2
If learners analyze unaccusatives as having
underlying objects, they should:
a. incorrectly accept passive unaccusatives but
not passive unergatives (if passive is taken
as overt marking of NP movement);
b. prefer unaccusatives with postverbal rather
than with preverbal subjects, and
c. correctly accept unaccusatives with bare
plurals and in participial absolute
constructions.
Hypothesis 3
If L2 learners are sensitive to the
semantics of unaccusativity, and even if
they show robust knowledge of the
syntactic reflexes of the distinction, we
expect to see variability in judgments
with less core and peripheral
unaccusative and unergative verbs
rather than with the core classes.
Participants
28 Spanish monolingual native speakers
71 L2 English-speaking learners of
Spanish
25 advanced
21 intermediate
25 low-intermediate
Tasks
1. Proficiency Test (parts of DELE)
2. Vocabulary Translation Task (Pre-test)
3. Acceptability Judgment Task
18 verbs (9 unaccusative, 9
unergative)
divided into 3 subclasses each
Unaccusatives
Most unaccusative
core
less core
change of
location
Less unaccusative
periphery
change of state
llegar
‘arrive’
morir
salir
‘leave’
desaparecer ‘disappear’
caer
‘fall’
surgir
‘die’
‘emerge’
existence of
state
existir
‘exist’
quedar ‘remain’
faltar
‘lack’
Unergatives
Less unergative
Periphery
less core
uncontrolled
process
temblar
bostezar
‘shiver’
‘yawn’
transpirar ‘sweat’
Most unergative
core
controlled
process
(motional)
controlled
process
(non-motional)
‘run’
hablar
‘talk’
caminar
‘walk’
cantar
‘sing’
nadar
‘swim’
trabajar ‘work’
correr
Structures Tested
a. Preverbal and post-verbal subjects
(grammatical)
b. Passive constructions (*ungrammatical)
c. Postverbal bare plural NPs (grammatical for
unaccusative but *ungrammatical for
unergatives)
d. Participial absolute construction
(grammatical with telic unaccusatives but
*ungrammatical with unergatives).
Total of 90 sentences (45 gram., 45 ungram.)
Examples from test
1. El tren salió a las 3.
incorrect somewhat incorrect
1
maybe somewhat correct
2
3
correct
4
5
2. Nadaron Pedro y Mónica en la piscina.
1
2
3
4
5
Results
Proficiency Scores (max 50)
Native
speakers
(n = 28)
L2 Learners
(n = 71)
mean
49
Adv.
(n = 25)
*46.08
Interm.
(n = 21)
*31.9
Low
(n =25)
*18.16
range
45-50
40-50
25-39
12-24
sd
1.30
3.04
5.14
3.74
Figure 1. Monolingual native speakers (n = 28).
Mean acceptability judgments.
Unaccusative
Unergative
5
4
3
2
1
Preverbal
Subject
Postverbal
Subject
Absolutive
Construction
Bare Plurals
Passive
Figure 2. Low intermediate learners (n = 25).
Mean acceptability judgments.
Unaccusative
Unergative
5
4
3
2
1
Preverbal
Subject
Postverbal
Subject
Absolutive
Construction
Bare Plurals
Passive
Figure 3. Intermediate learners (n =21). Mean
acceptability judgments.
Unaccusative
Unergative
5
4
3
2
1
Preverbal
Subject
Postverbal
Subject
Absolutive
Construction
Bare Plurals
Passive
Figure 4. Advanced learners (n = 25). Mean
acceptability judgments.
Unaccusative
Unergative
5
4
3
2
1
Preverbal
Subject
Postverbal
Subject
Absolutive
Construction
Bare Plurals
Passive
Summary
Support for hypothesis 1:
The less proficient learners did not
distinguish between unaccusatives and
unergatives in the bare plural NP and
participial absolute construction, BUT
also incorrectly accepted passive
unaccusatives and unergatives more
than the other groups.
They don’t seem to discriminate
between verbs or constructions.
Support for Hypothesis 2:
The intermediate learners discriminated
between unaccusatives and unergatives
with most constructions, but also
incorrectly accepted passives with the
two classes. Overall, the advanced
learners performed like the native
speakers.
Are L2 learners sensitive to semantic
subclasses of unaccusative and
unergative verbs?
Low-intermediate learners in general do not
discriminate semantically among different
classes of unaccusative and unergative verbs.
Like the native speakers, the advanced learners
discriminated semantically among different
verbs.
Intermediate level learners also show effects by
verb class in some constructions.
Variability in accordance with Sorace’s
hierarchy.
Sensitivity to semantic and syntactic
properties of intransitive verbs begins to
emerge in the intermediate group.
Results of advanced group suggest that
L2 learners eventually acquire the
syntax of unaccusativity.
Advanced L2 learners were different from
the native speakers in the absolutive
construction. (They had lower ratings for
the telic unaccusative classes).
Experiment 2:
Early Bilinguals or Heritage
Speakers
Research Questions
Can incomplete acquisition affect
knowledge of lexical semantics?
If it does, does it affect knowledge of the
syntactic or semantic reflexes of
unaccusativity?
Hypotheses
If incomplete acquisition resembles
intermediate or advanced stages of L2
acquisition, then:
Heritage speakers are expected to have robust
knowledge of the syntax of unaccusativity but
show variable judgments with the
semantics of unaccusativity.
In particular, less core and peripheral
unaccusatives and unergatives should show
more variable/indeterminate ratings than
core unaccusative and unergative verbs.
Participants and Tests
36 adult Spanish heritage speakers
(Mexican-Americans) enrolled in
intermediate and advanced Spanish
language and literature classes
28 monolingual Spanish native speakers
Proficiency Test
Vocabulary Translation Task (Pre-test)
Acceptability Judgment Task
Some Characteristics of HS
• Little or no early schooling in Spanish
• Spanish spoken in early childhood at home
as a first language or in conjunction with
English
• Rapid shift from Spanish to English
occurred before adolescence
• Subsequent use of Spanish is confined to
conversations with a few relatives
• Self-rated proficiency in Spanish from 3-5 in
a 5-point scale (mean 4.01)
RESULTS
Proficiency Test
Monolinguals
Heritage Speakers
mean
49
*39.85
sd
1.30
8.89
range
45-50
16-50
ANOVA: F(1,61) = 31.575, p < 0.0001
HS’s Proficiency Distribution
16
15
14
12
10
8
8
8
6
5
4
2
0
0
0-20
20-30
30-39
40-45
45-50
Monolinguals
Unaccusative
5
Unergative
4
3
2
1
Preverbal
Subject
Postverbal
Subject
Absolutive
Construction
Bare Plurals
Passive
Heritage Speakers (n =31)
5
Unaccusative
Unergative
4
3
2
1
Preverbal
Subject
Postverbal
Subject
Absolutive
Construction
Bare Plurals
Passive
Low Proficiency HSs (n = 5)
5
unaccusative
unergative
4
3
2
1
Preverbal
Subject
Postverbal
Subject
Absolutive
Constructions
Bare Plurals
Passives
Advanced and intermediate HS showed
similar pattern of responses as
advanced and intermediate L2 learners:
They distinguished syntactically
between unaccusative and unergative
verbs in the relevant constructions.
Low-level HS also discriminated
syntactically between the verbs, unlike
the low proficiency L2 learners.
Verb Classes by Proficiency
• All groups, included the lower
proficiency group, discriminated
semantically between different
subclasses.
• Peripheral verbs (unaccusatives of
existence and uncontrolled process
unergatives) received the most variable
ratings, in accordance with the
unaccusativity hierarchy.
Summary
• Syntactic knowledge of unaccusativity is
quite robust in Spanish heritage
speakers.
• However, and in absolute terms, heritage
speakers are still different from
monolinguals with the absolutive
constructions in Spanish.
Like intermediate and advanced L2
learners, heritage speakers accepted
more ungrammatical passive
unaccusatives and unergatives than
monolingual native speakers.
A crucial difference between L2 learners
and heritage speakers emerged at the
lowest proficiency levels:
While heritage speakers discriminated
syntactically and semantically
between unaccusative and unergative
verbs, the L2 learners did not.
Conclusions
1. Language specific properties of
unaccusativity are learned without L2
learners ever receiving explicit
instruction, and there is a clear
developmental path.
2. There are important similarities
between intermediate and advanced
stages of L2 acquisition and incomplete
acquisition in the types of errors made
and in the degree of ultimate attainment
at the advanced level.
3. The weaker grammar of a bilingual
resembles intermediate or advanced
stages of second language acquisition
(Schlyter 1993).
4. Advanced early and late bilinguals can
attain similar levels of linguistic
competence in some grammatical
domains regardless of Critical Period
(Montrul 2002).
But, low proficiency heritage speakers
are superior to L2 learners, at least
in terms of “subtle” unconscious
linguistic knowledge not available to
metalinguistic awareness.
Current work
2 possibilities:
1. Proficiency test not be suitable for HS.
(It may underestimate their actual
proficiency.)
2. HS have a linguistic advantage due to
their linguistic past (i.e., critical period)
1. Proficiency Test
In Montrul (2005), I found that the results
of the same proficiency test
administered to 16 HS was highly
correlated (r2 .85) with the scores of a
morphological recognition task testing
the difference between indicative and
subjunctive verbs.
Proficiency Scores
20
18
16
14
12
10
8
6
4
2
0
0
10
20
30
Morphological Recognition Task
40
50
Montrul, Perpiñán, Phillips,
Thornhill and Vidal (in progress)
We are currently investigating whether
proficiency scores on the DELE are
also predictable from patterns of
language use throughout the lifespan
and whether they are also comparable
to proficiency self-ratings in different
skills.
2. Linguistic advantage due to
early input
Montrul (2004) and Montrul and
Rodríguez Louro (2004) looked at the
expression of subjects in L2 learners
and heritage speakers in an oral
retelling task.
The Null Subject Parameter
• Spanish is a pro-drop language, whereas
English is a non-pro-drop language.
• Spanish has rich agreement inflection.
• Spanish has preverbal and postverbal
subjects
• In Spanish, null and overt subjects are
possible, but their distribution is governed by
pragmatic constraints.
Participants
Montrul (2004): 14 advanced HS
10 intermediate HS
Montrul and Rodriguez Louro (2004):
13 advanced L2 learners
16 intermediate L2 learners
% Correct Subject-Verb Agreement
100
98
96
94
92
90
88
86
84
82
80
L2
Monolinguals
HS
Advanced
L2
HS
Intermediate
% Null and Overt Subjects
100
90
80
70
60
overt
50
null
40
30
20
10
0
L2
Monolinguals
HS
Advanced
L2
HS
Intermediate
% Preverbal and Postverbal Subjects
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
postverbal
preverbal
L2
Monolinguals
HS
Advanced
L2
HS
Intermediate
% Discourse-Pragmatic Errors
25
illicit null subject
20
redundant overt subject
15
10
5
0
L2
Monolinguals
HS
Advanced
L2
HS
Intermediate
Conclusions
• The morphosyntactic aspects of the Null
Subject Parameter and the
unaccusative-unergative distinction are
acquired very early in childhood in
monolingual Spanish children (before
age 4) (See Montrul 2004, chapters 4
and 6)
• HS received Spanish input in early
childhood and parameters were set very
early.
• Once set, these aspects of syntax are
not lost.
• L2 learners are still in the process of
resetting parameters.
• HS differ from monolinguals (i.e.,
incomplete knowledge) in interface
areas: syntax-pragmatics and
semantics (aspects of verb meaning).
• These areas of grammar are learned
after age 4 and are dependent upon
rich input and probably literacy skills
(especially the discourse-pragmatic
distribution of null and overt subjects)
• My results corroborate and complement
results of a study by Au, Knightly, Jun
and Oh (2002) on the advantages of
receiving input in a language early in
childhood.
• According to Au and collaborators,
Heritage Spanish overhearers are
superior than very beginning L2
learners in phonology, but not in
morphology and syntax.
My results suggest that lower proficiency
heritage speakers are also superior to
their L2 counterparts in aspects of
morphosyntax and lexical-semantics.
But this conclusion deserves further
research, since I had few subjects.
CAS Fellowship
Are low-intermediate
heritage speakers
linguistically superior
to L2 learners of the
same proficiency level?
Phonology
VOT
Overall accent
(1 test)
Lexicon
Lexical retrieval
and access by category:
verbs, nouns, adjectives
(2 tests)
Proficiency Test
Sociolinguistic
interview
Morpho-syntax
Syntax-semantics
Gender agreement
Object clitics
Word order
(6 tests)
Tense-Aspect
Subjunctive
(6 tests)
Implications
• The notion of incompleteness as a
pervasive and peculiar feature of SLA (BleyVroman’s 1990 Fundamental Difference
Hypothesis).
• Critical Period Hypothesis or Age effects
• The role of input in language development
and underdevelopment
• The role of literacy and language use
• The nature of bilingual grammars and the
instability of language dominance along the
lifespan (Kohnert et al., 1999)
• Instructional interventions in Heritage
language programs.
Final Words
•
Generative approaches to L2 acquisition have
been often criticized for not having pedagogical
implications.
• Linguistic theory applied to L2 acquisition and adult
early bilinguals is a crucial tool for constructing
linguistic instruments to identify systematic and
measurable differences and similarities between
these two bilingual populations.
• Once we know what type of linguistic knowledge
HS and L2 learners have or lack, practitioners will
be in a better position to address their linguistic and
pedagogical needs, especially when they find
themselves in the same L2 class.
Thank You Very Much!
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The Unaccusative/Unergative Distinction in Spanish L2