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IMPLICATIONS OF NULL ARGUMENT PARAMETERS WITH RESPECT TO ACQUISITION OF NON-'PRO-DROP' LANGUAGES BY SECOND LANGUAGE LEARNERS

Norma Register

Ph.D. Dissertation, 1987

Abstract

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.

 
 
Department of Linguistics University of Wisconsin-Madison

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