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On the Acquisition of Spanish Causative Structures by L1 Speakers of English
Mónica Cabrera and María Luisa Zubizarreta
24-33 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


In English and Spanish, a sub-class of unaccusatives participate in the causative alternation (namely verbs of change of state, such as break/romper), while other unaccusatives (e.g. arrive/llegar) and unergatives (e.g. laugh/reír) do not participate in this alternation. However, causative uses of such verbs have been attested in the L1 and L2 acquisition of English and Spanish. Montrul (1997, 1999), studying L1 English speakers learning L2 Spanish, has proposed that overgeneralized causatives are due to learners' lack of knowledge of the grammatically relevant features of the meaning of verbs necessary to distinguish which verbs can alternate in transitivity. This study replicates and extends Montrul's, testing whether learners make a significant distinction between verb types. 140 L1 speakers of English learning L2 Spanish (beginners, intermediate, and advanced) were tested using an acceptability judgment test and a written production task. Results showed that some learners overgeneralized causatives ("creative") while others did not ("conservative"), and that beginners and intermediates accepted/produced overgeneralized causatives to a larger extent than the advanced, who behaved more like the controls. On the other hand, creative learners did so significantly more with unaccusative than with unergative verbs, which suggests that L2 learners make use of their grammatical knowledge since they overgeneralize along the right dimension. It is argued that overgeneralized causatives are due to the way learners use their grammatical knowledge. More precisely, it is suggested that learners may move from a syntactic to a lexico-syntactic strategy until fully exploiting their lexical knowledge.

Published in

Proceedings of the 6th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference (GASLA 2002): L2 Links
edited by Juana M. Liceras, Helmut Zobl, and Helen Goodluck
Table of contents
Printed edition: $340.00