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L2 learners and heritage speakers: Exploring some differences and similarities Silvina Montrul Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.

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Presentation on theme: "L2 learners and heritage speakers: Exploring some differences and similarities Silvina Montrul Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese."— Presentation transcript:

1 L2 learners and heritage speakers: Exploring some differences and similarities Silvina Montrul Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese

2 Acknowledgements University of Illinois Campus Research Board Award (2000) Beckman Award from the Research Board (2004-2005) The Center for Advanced Studies (Spring 2005)

3 Assistants and collaborators Graduate Students Undergraduate Students Mónica de PedroJustin Sánchez Marisa Martínez MiraBeth Emody Rebecca Phillips Dan Thornhill Silvia Perpiñán Susana Vidal Celeste Rodríguez Louro

4 My Research SLA and Bilingualism Adult L2 acquisitionL1 loss in bilinguals

5 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.

6 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.

7 Grammatical Analysis of Interlanguage and Bilingual Systems Theoretical Linguistics (generative syntactic theory) SLA Theory and Bilingualism Monolingual and bilingual L1 acquisition Psycholinguistics Sociolinguistics

8 Languages Spanish (mainly) English French Turkish Korean (with Ji-Hye Kim and James Yoon) Chinese (with Zhijun Wang)

9 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)

10 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.

11 L2 learners (sequential or late bilinguals) Adult learners who started learning the L2 after puberty (i.e., after critical period). Instance of language acquisition

12 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

13 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

14 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

15 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?

16 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)

17 Factors which differ Age of onset of bilingualism Nature and timing of input Experience with explicit instruction Literacy

18 Montrul (forthcoming in 2005) Second Language Research 21, 3

19 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.

20 Examples (1)a. John walked. unergative b. [John [ VP walked ]] (2) a. John arrived. unaccusative b. [ e [ VP arrived John]] c. [John i [ VP arrived t i ]]

21 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)

22 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.’

23 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

24 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

25 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.’

26 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.

27 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

28 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

29 Unaccusativity in Spanish Experiment 1: Late bilinguals or L2 learners

30 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?

31 Hypothesis 1 If learners do not distinguish between unaccusative and unergative verbs, then they should treat all verbs alike in the relevant constructions.

32 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.

33 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.

34 Participants 28 Spanish monolingual native speakers 71 L2 English-speaking learners of Spanish 25 advanced 21 intermediate 25 low-intermediate

35 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

36 Unaccusatives Most unaccusative Less unaccusative core less core periphery change of location change of stateexistence of state llegar ‘arrive’morir ‘die’existir ‘exist’ salir ‘leave’desaparecer ‘disappear’quedar ‘remain’ caer ‘fall’surgir ‘emerge’faltar ‘lack’

37 Unergatives Less unergative Most unergative Periphery less core core uncontrolled process controlled process (motional) controlled process (non-motional) temblar ‘shiver’correr ‘run’hablar ‘talk’ bostezar ‘yawn’caminar ‘walk’cantar ‘sing’ transpirar ‘sweat’nadar ‘swim’trabajar ‘work’

38 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.)

39 Examples from test 1. El tren salió a las 3. incorrect somewhat incorrect maybe somewhat correct correct 1 2 3 4 5 2. Nadaron Pedro y Mónica en la piscina. 1 2 3 4 5

40 Results

41 Proficiency Scores (max 50) Native speakers (n = 28) L2 Learners (n = 71) Adv. (n = 25) Interm. (n = 21) Low (n =25) mean49*46.08*31.9*18.16 range45-5040-5025-3912-24 sd1.303.045.143.74

42 Figure 1. Monolingual native speakers (n = 28). Mean acceptability judgments.

43 Figure 2. Low intermediate learners (n = 25). Mean acceptability judgments.

44 Figure 3. Intermediate learners (n =21). Mean acceptability judgments.

45 Figure 4. Advanced learners (n = 25). Mean acceptability judgments.

46 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.

47 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.

48 Are L2 learners sensitive to semantic subclasses of unaccusative and unergative verbs?

49 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.

50 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).

51 Experiment 2: Early Bilinguals or Heritage Speakers

52 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?

53 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.

54 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

55 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)


57 Proficiency Test ANOVA: F(1,61) = 31.575, p < 0.0001 MonolingualsHeritage Speakers mean49*39.85 sd1.308.89 range45-5016-50

58 HS’s Proficiency Distribution

59 Monolinguals

60 Heritage Speakers (n =31)

61 Low Proficiency HSs (n = 5)

62 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.

63 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.

64 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.

65 Like intermediate and advanced L2 learners, heritage speakers accepted more ungrammatical passive unaccusatives and unergatives than monolingual native speakers.

66 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.

67 Conclusions 1. Language specific properties of unaccusativity are learned without L2 learners ever receiving explicit instruction, and there is a clear developmental path.

68 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.

69 3. The weaker grammar of a bilingual resembles intermediate or advanced stages of second language acquisition (Schlyter 1993).

70 4. Advanced early and late bilinguals can attain similar levels of linguistic competence in some grammatical domains regardless of Critical Period (Montrul 2002).

71 But, low proficiency heritage speakers are superior to L2 learners, at least in terms of “subtle” unconscious linguistic knowledge not available to metalinguistic awareness.

72 Current work

73 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)

74 1. Proficiency Test In Montrul (2005), I found that the results of the same proficiency test administered to 16 HS was highly correlated (r 2.85) with the scores of a morphological recognition task testing the difference between indicative and subjunctive verbs.


76 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.

77 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.

78 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.

79 Participants Montrul (2004): 14 advanced HS 10 intermediate HS Montrul and Rodriguez Louro (2004): 13 advanced L2 learners 16 intermediate L2 learners

80 % Correct Subject-Verb Agreement

81 % Null and Overt Subjects

82 % Preverbal and Postverbal Subjects

83 % Discourse-Pragmatic Errors

84 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)

85 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.

86 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)

87 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.

88 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.

89 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) Morpho-syntax Gender agreement Object clitics Word order (6 tests) Syntax-semantics Tense-Aspect Subjunctive (6 tests) Proficiency Test Sociolinguistic interview

90 Implications The notion of incompleteness as a pervasive and peculiar feature of SLA (Bley- Vroman’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.

91 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.

92 Thank You Very Much!

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