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Silvia Perpiñan: "Microparametric variation among Romance languages: the L2 acquisition of Spanish locative and existential constructions by Catalan and Italian speakers"

January 27, 2014 @ 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm  |  Humanities 1, Room 202


perpiñanAbstract: Selection of copula verbs in Spanish is a classic challenging area for L2 learners. Even so, it has received moderate attention on SLA research, and most of the studies have focused on the acquisition of the semantic and pragmatic distinctions between ser and estar, particularly when combined with adjectives (Bruhn de Garavito & Valenzuela, 2006; Geeslin, 2002; 2003; Schmitt & Miller, 2007; among others). The present study goes beyond the alternation between ser and estar + adjective by looking at the selection of copula verbs to express location, and existentials.

Following Freeze (1992), I assume a universal locative paradigm with three surface structures that imply the use of three different verbs in Spanish: estar for the predicate locative when the subject is an object (1), and ser when it is an event (2); the existential with haber (2); and the possessive or ‘have’ using tener.

Three microparametric differences among Spanish, Italian, and Catalan are investigated, which regulate (a) the distribution of ser vs. estar in locatives (the eventiveness effect, which does not exist in Standard Catalan or Italian), (b) the distribution of haber vs. estar (the definiteness effect, Milsark, 1977, which is only obeyed in Spanish), and (c) the use of clitics in locatives (Spanish does not have a locative clitic, whereas in Catalan and Italian it is obligatory). Given these differences, we question whether L2 speakers of Spanish are able to fully acquire the distribution of estar in locative predicates and observe the restriction on definite DPs in Spanish existential constructions. Furthermore, we wonder how the bilingual mind will restructure her clitic system into a reduced morphological paradigm with no partitive or locative clitics.

The present study analyzes the expression of L2 Spanish existential and locative constructions in 20 native speakers of Catalan, 34 native speakers of Italian (from Rome), and 20 monolingual Spanish speakers with two main tasks, an Acceptability Judgment Task and an elicited oral production task. Results indicated that L2 learners used significantly less ester to express location than native speakers, showing that this verb develops later than ser as previously reported for English (VanPatten, 1985, 1987), and as predicted by recent analyses of the copular ser/estar (Brucart, 2012; Gallego & Uriagereka, 2011). Nonetheless, Italian speakers also overgeneralized estar to localize events, and in existential constructions, when ser or haber are required in Spanish.

Finally, Italian speakers of intermediate proficiency, and some Catalan speakers continued using ser to localize objects. More interestingly, both L2 groups accepted definite DPs in presentational sentences, violating the definiteness effect, displaying problems when assembling semantic features into specific lexical pieces. These results will be discussed within the debate on dissociation between acquisition of syntax and acquisition of semantics, and the feature assembly or feature matching hypothesis (Lardiere, 2008, 2009; Slabakova, 2009).
Speaker: Silvia Perpiñan is Assistant Professor of Modern Languages at the University of Western Ontario.


January 27, 2014
5:00 pm - 6:30 pm