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The Effect of Subject Person on English Auxiliary Movement: Evidence from Early L2 Learners
Sunny K. Park-Johnson
19-28 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


Subject auxiliary inversion (SAI) in English wh-questions has long been understood as an area of difficulty in acquisition. In the present study, evidence from early L2 English learners reveals a step-wise acquisition of auxiliary movement contingent upon subject person. Twenty-one L1 Korean/L2 English (K-E) preschool-aged children and 19 monolingual English-speaking (M-E) children are observed in an elicitation study that tests the effect of subject person on whether or not the auxiliary appears in the inverted position preceding the subject. A total of 60 wh-questions for first, second, and third person were elicited through a guessing game with puppets, during which children were prompted to ask specific object-what questions. Results indicated a significant main effect for subject person for the K-E group, while there was no significant effect of person for the M-E group. Furthermore, qualitative analysis of the K-E children's productions revealed four stages of SAI acquisition: 1) no auxiliary present, 2) SAI for second person, 3) SAI for first person, and 4) SAI for third person as well. To formally account for this pattern of data found in the experiment within a generative framework, the author proposes the Person-Feature Auxiliary Movement (PFAM) Hypothesis, which makes predictions of T-to-C movement based on the person feature that is specified in T. The findings and theoretical analysis show evidence for a pattern of acquisition that is linked to subject person that may be specific to this group of early L2 learners.

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 2011 Second Language Research Forum: Converging Theory and Practice
edited by Erik Voss, Shu-Ju Diana Tai, and Zhi Li
Table of contents
Printed edition: $280.00