General programme, activity sheet

Thursday 18 September, 2014 17:00 to 17:30 Oral presentation
On the L2 acquisition of Spanish subject-verb inversion by Dutch speakers
Authors: Alexia Guerra Rivera, Peter Coopmans and Sergio Baauw

This study examines the L2 acquisition of Spanish subject-verb inversion in wh-questions by Dutch speakers. In Spanish, subject-verb inversion occurs in matrix and embedded wh-questions. However, the argument vs. adjunct status of the wh-element determines whether this is obligatory or not. Interestingly, Dutch also has subject-verb inversion, yet this is only obligatory in matrix clauses and is not subject to argumental restrictions. With respect to inversion, the main differences between the two languages are: in Dutch, there is always subject-verb inversion in matrix interrogatives, independent of the argument/adjunct status of the wh-element. Secondly, Dutch is a V2 language and Spanish is not; thus, Dutch subject-verb inversion only occurs in matrix clauses, never in embedded ones, while in Spanish, with argument wh-questions, the main verb must always appear before the subject in both types of clauses. Given the fact that this contrast between the two languages is never explicitly addressed in the classroom context, it is particularly interesting to determine how Dutch speakers learning Spanish acquire these rules and where they may encounter difficulties in their application. The empirical basis of this study comes from an experiment conducted with 46 participants: 13 advanced and 20 beginner L2 learners and 13 Spanish native speakers, tested on a Grammaticality Judgment Task and a Dehydrated Sentence Test. Results from the GJT show that with argumental wh-words, L2 learners do not seem to detect the ungrammaticality of non-inversion in either embedded or matrix interrogatives. As expected, this effect is more evident in embedded questions; it is precisely in this type of interrogatives that Spanish and Dutch differ. However, the fact that the L2s do not reject matrix non-inverted sentences correctly shows that they cannot be fully relying on their L1 grammar. Results also indicate a significant variability in the preference for inversion with the different wh- words, with ‘Por qué’ being the odd one out among the adjuncts. Findings will be discussed in light of the Full Access Full Transfer Model.
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Paper session C
Place: Main Room

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