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Missing Inflection in L2 Acquisition: Defective Syntax or LI-Constrained Prosodic Representations?

  • Heather Goad (a1), Lydia White (a1) and Jeffrey Steele (a2)

Abstract

It is proposed that failure to consistently produce inflectional morphology by Mandarin-speaking learners of English is due to properties of the LI prosodic phonology which are transferred into the interlanguage grammar. While English requires inflection to be adjoined to the Prosodic Word, Mandarin does not permit this structure. Inflection in Mandarin is instead incorporated into the PWd of the stem to which it attaches. It is shown that Mandarin speakers fall into two groups in their treatment of English inflectional morphology. One group of learners is sensitive to the need for a unified analysis of inflection. They recognize that English does not permit a stem-internal analysis of this morphology, but as their grammars do not permit adjunction, inflection is deleted across-the-board. For the other group, inflection surfaces variably, for those stimuli where the shape of the stem enables it to be incorporated into the PWd, as in the L1.

Résumé

Il est proposé que l’incapacité pour les locuteurs du mandarin de produire systématiquement la morphologie flexionnelle de l’anglais est due aux propriétés de la phonologie prosodique de la L1 qui sont transférées dans la grammaire interlangue. Alors que la flexion doit être adjointe au mot prosodique en anglais, le mandarin ne permet pas cette structure. La flexion du mandarin est plutôt incorporée dans le mot prosodique du radical auquel elle s’attache. Il est montré que les locuteurs du mandarin se divisent en deux groupes selon leur traitement de la morphologie flexionnelle de l’anglais. Un groupe d’apprenants est sensible à la nécessité d’une analyse unifiée de la flexion. Ils reconnaissent que l’anglais ne permet pas une analyse de la morphologie flexionnelle à l’intérieur du radical, mais comme leur grammaire ne permet pas l’adjonction, la flexion est simplement supprimée. Pour l’autre groupe, la flexion fait surface de façon variable; elle est réalisée lorsque la forme du radical lui permet d’être incorporée dans le mot prosodique comme dans la L1.

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