This paper reports on an experimental study investigating the Bare Noun/Proper Name parameter (Longobardi 1991, 1994, 1996, 2001, to appear) and its L2 acquisition. It has been noticed that English and Italian mass or bare plural nouns have identical syntactic form and distribution, but differ in available interpretations, the Italian meaning being a subset of the English meanings. On the other hand, proper names display cross-linguistic constant meaning but variable word order. Longobardi argues that variation in this respect can be accounted for by a parameter that is set to one value in English and another one in Italian. This parameter allows us to test acquisition of interpretation in the absence of supporting changes in the overt syntax. A Truth Value Judgment Task and Grammaticality Judgment Task were administered to 76 Italian learners of English and 24 native Italian controls. Results indicate that knowledge of the syntactic aspect of the Bare Noun/Proper Name parameter has been acquired by all learners. Furthermore, Italian learners of English at high intermediate and advanced levels of proficiency are able to correctly interpret ambiguous English bare nouns. They have acquired (two related) interpretations that are not available in their native grammar. The findings suggest that semantic interpretations not available in the L1 are nevertheless fully available to the high intermediate and advanced adult learners.
Proceedings of the 7th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference (GASLA 2004)
edited by Laurent Dekydtspotter, Rex A. Sprouse, and Audrey Liljestrand
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