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Revisiting Wh-movement: The Availability of an Uninterpretable [wh] Feature in Interlanguage Grammars
Roger Hawkins
124-137 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


A number of studies of English wh-question formation in early generative SLA produced results suggesting that speakers of wh in situ L1s (like Chinese and Japanese) experience persistent problems acquiring the fact that syntactic movement is involved (Schachter 1990, Johnson and Newport 1991). Hawkins and Chan (1997) attempted to explain these observations by claiming that L2 speakers are unable to represent the feature in C that forces wh-movement in English if it has not been selected by their L1, and if the speaker is beyond a critical period for acquisition of such features (following ideas developed by Tsimpli and Roussou 1991, and Smith and Tsimpli 1995). L2 speakers in this situation can acquire the fact that English wh-phrases are fronted, but have representations that do not involve feature-driven movement of wh-phrases to the [spec, CP] position. Since that paper appeared, considerable apparent counterevidence to this claim has emerged. Studies have found that L2 speakers who are beyond the assumed critical period appear able to acquire functional categories, features and feature strength not present in their L1s (see White 2003 for an overview of many such cases). This article revisits the issue of whether, within a theory which views L2 grammatical knowledge as broadly UG-constrained, a subset of syntactic features is subject to a critical period. The basic correctness of the fundamental insight will be argued for, but it will be suggested (with the benefit of hindsight) that the model Hawkins and Chan were assuming was insufficiently articulated to make the right predictions. Situating the idea within recent proposals about the nature of the language faculty, the author suggests that some of the counterevidence is only apparent, and that there are grounds for maintaining the view that some syntactic features are subject to a critical period.

Published in

Proceedings of the 7th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference (GASLA 2004)
edited by Laurent Dekydtspotter, Rex A. Sprouse, and Audrey Liljestrand
Table of contents
Printed edition: $280.00