Modularity and interlanguage development: the acquisition of configurationality by German learners of English
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This thesis is concerned with the nature of systematicity and development in interlanguage grammars. The inquiry into these notions is conducted within the framework of a modular conception of language acquisition. We assume that the process of second language acquisition is determined by the interaction of Universal Grammar, whose mode of operation is top -down and deductive, and a general learning module, whose mode of operation is bottom -up and inductive. We also take a modular view of the acquisition of syntax in supposing that language development occurs as the result of the acquisition process occurring independently in the various parameterized principles of Universal Grammar. The special character of second language grammars arises from the fact that the parameters of Universal Grammar at the start of the acquisition process are already fixed and may be incompatible with the second language grammar. Where there is no evidence available to disconfirm an overly general grammar, or where the problem space presented by the parameter is complex or indeterminate, then the learner is likely to encounter difficulty in resetting the parameter. Interlanguage grammars are also characterized by a high degree of indeterminacy and variability, which we suppose results from the fact that they lack the systemic equilibrium which is characteristic of natural language grammars. In order to put these notions to the test, a cross -sectional study of the grammaticality intuitions of German learners of English was conducted at four different levels. It was hypothesised that the interlanguage grammar of these learners undergoes a restructuring from a grammar which is basically non -configurational to one which is strongly configurational. An acceptability judgement task was constructed in order to assess the acceptability of sentences which were diagnostic of the configurationality status of the grammar. Among the constructions represented in the test were `tough'- movement, indirect object promotion, the middle construction and unaccusativity. The mean acceptability rating for each sentence type was plotted across the four levels to obtain a developmental profile for that sentence type. The results of the study showed that all and only those sentences which were diagnostic of the configurationality status of the grammar had a developmental profile indicative of restructuring in the grammar. Sentences which were not diagnostic of configurationality had a linear mode of development, suggesting that the primary factor in the acceptability of these sentences was incremental lexical learning. In general, the results of the study suggest that the top -down effect of Universal Grammar is a more significant factor in the development of interlanguage grammars than the bottom -up effect of the general learning module.