This paper investigates the acquisition of object clitic constructions by second language (L2) learners of French. Previous research has shown that the most frequent learner error consists of the omission of object clitics, resulting in utterances without an overt object. This finding raises the question of whether there is a stage in the development of L2 French at which null objects are permitted by the interlanguage grammar (e.g., Towell & Hawkins 1994), or whether the missing clitic constitutes an instance of missing surface inflection in the sense of the Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis (MSIH, e.g., Prévost & White 2000). These two hypotheses make opposite predictions with regard to learners' performance on a receptive task: while the former expects acceptance of utterances containing a null object, the latter predicts rejection. This paper presents experimental evidence from a truth value judgment task bearing on these predictions. The task was conducted with nine anglophone L2 learners of French (mean age 7;7) whose average object omission rate in elicited production was 31%. These learners consistently judged items in the object-drop condition as false (81%), indicating that object-drop is not legitimate in their interlanguage. The result suggests that the (child) L2 learners examined here have successfully acquired the syntax of clitic constructions, a task difficult to conceive of without the guidance of a constrained UG hypothesis space, and that their omissions in production can be seen as an instance of missing surface inflection.
Proceedings of the 8th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference (GASLA 2006): The Banff Conference
edited by Mary Grantham O'Brien, Christine Shea, and John Archibald
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