IMPLICATIONS OF NULL ARGUMENT PARAMETERS WITH RESPECT TO ACQUISITION OF NON-'PRO-DROP' LANGUAGES BY SECOND LANGUAGE LEARNERS
Ph.D. Dissertation, 1987
Much current syntactic research has focused on accounting for null argument
effects cross-linguistically in a principled and systematic way. Little
research effort has been directed to the implications of null argument
principles for psycholinguistic problems, however. Of that which has,
most has addressed their implications for first language acquisition only.
But the two experiments reported on here suggest that second language
learner responses to argument manipulation in a target language are predictable
under appropriate conditions on the basis of universal principles associated
with the learners' first languages. The second language learners who acted
as subjects for the experiments possessed backgrounds in either Spanish,
a sentence-oriented, subject-prominent language, or Chinese, a discourse-oriented,
topic prominent language. Both languages tolerate argument nonoccurrence
in finite clauses where English, the subjects' target language, does not.
The general expectation was that the subjects would accept an overwhelming
proportion of English sentences with erroneously missing elements because
first language principles would influence their judgments. The basic principles
used to predict the learners' responses to the sentences were the 'pro-drop'
or null subject parameter and the zero topic parameter. The predictions
relevant to the Spanish subjects' responses proved accurate for this sample.
But those for the Chinese could not be confirmed. The latter result would
indicate that a syntax-based theory is not one from which cross-linguistic
predictions of null argument effects can be made for Chinese speakers.
Implications of the findings for ESL pedagogy conclude the discussion.
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