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There Aren't Many Difficulties with Definiteness: Negative Existentials in the L2 English of Turkish and Russian Speakers
Lydia White, Alyona Belikova, Paul Hagstrom, Tanja Kupisch, and Öner Özçelik
266-276 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


In the context of L2 representational 'deficits', researchers have claimed that the realization of definiteness via the English article system is problematic for learners whose L1s lack articles. There have been claims for short-term fluctuation between parameter settings (Ionin et al. 2004), persistent pragmatic and processing problems (Trenkic 2007), or permanent morphosyntactic deficits (Tsimpli 2003). In contrast, by examining subtle constraints on definiteness, this paper shows that L2ers can achieve native-like restrictions on definiteness, even when the L1 and L2 differ, suggesting no deficit in this domain. Results show that advanced L2ers with L1s Russian and Turkish respond like native speakers, not only accepting weak and rejecting strong DPs in affirmative existentials but also, crucially, in negatives. At the same time, strong DPs in deictic and list readings are accepted. Intermediate learners are also relatively accurate, showing no evidence of L1 transfer, contrary to hypothesis. A comparison with results from two groups of native speakers taking the test in Russian and Turkish confirms that judgments in the L1 are quite different from the L2: negative existentials are accepted in both languages. In conclusion, the results suggest that L2ers' achievements regarding definiteness have been underestimated; subtle definiteness restrictions are acquirable, regardless of L1/L2 differences.

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 4th Conference on Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America (GALANA 2010)
edited by Mihaela Pirvulescu, María Cristina Cuervo, Ana T. Pérez-Leroux, Jeffrey Steele, and Nelleke Strik
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Printed edition: $320.00