Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 July 2012
This paper examines the acquisition of interpretable features in English second language (L2) learners of Spanish by investigating the personal preposition a in Spanish. The distribution of a in direct object NPs relates to the animacy/specificity of the NP, the animacy/agentivity of the subject, and the semantics of the predicate (Torrego, 1998; Zagona, 2002); i.e., personal a is conditioned by the interpretability of semantic features. Forty-nine English L2 learners of Spanish of three different proficiency levels, and 16 Spanish controls took part in a Completion Task and an Acceptability Judgement Task. These revealed that L2 learners of Spanish of all proficiency levels behaved differently from native speakers of Spanish. The L2 learners appear to have acquired some of the interpretable features (i.e., [±animate]), but show delays with others. Nonetheless, our data show partial convergence by advanced learners with the native speakers: some features are acquirable, while others may be less accessible and subject to developmental processes. In explaining our data we appeal to Lardiere's (2008, 2009) Feature Reassembly Hypothesis, but assess it critically and aim to develop it further by considering the complexity constraints in terms of the number of features involved and their configuration.
I wish to thank the Bilingualism: Language and Cognition reviewers for their constructive and acute observations and suggestions for improvement as well as the editor for her generous help and guidance during the publication process. Research related to this paper has been previously presented at various international forums, and so I would like to take this opportunity to thank colleagues at these meetings for their invaluable comments and critiques. I also wish to express my gratitude to Theo Marinis, who has helped me with the statistical analyses. Any and all errors and oversights remain entirely my own.