This paper broadly outlines how the main research questions concerning knowledge of syntactic functional categories in second language acquisition (SLA) have gradually shifted over the past several years—from an emphasis throughout the 1990s on the availability of IP and CP especially in early stages of acquisition, to a more recent concern with the acquisition (and ultimate acquirability) of individual features and the syntactic consequences associated with feature-checking. This shift has arisen partly as a result of the atomization of functional categories within linguistic theory, beginning with the split Infl hypothesis of Pollock, through the subsequent articulation of the categories of the clausal left periphery by Rizzi and others. The view taken in this paper is that the language-specific clustering (or 'assembly') of different features within different lexical items conditioned by different factors crosslinguistically poses the most difficult learning problem in the acquisition of the L2 grammar. Two examples from SLA data are used to illustrate this view: the acquisition of the interpretation of wh-in-situ expressions in L2 Korean by native English speakers, and the acquisition of plural marking in L2 English by a native speaker of (Mandarin and Hokkien) Chinese. The paper concludes with the suggestion that the study of features—their essential nature and source—will continue to be an important future direction for generative acquisition research.
Proceedings of the 2nd Conference on Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America (GALANA)
edited by Alyona Belikova, Luisa Meroni, and Mari Umeda
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