Ongoing Research Projects

These are some of the projects that are currently being conducted by members of our lab. We welcome your input, please contact us if you have any questions or comments.


Inflectional Morphology Meets Context (Roumyana Slabakova, Jia Zhu, Yi-Tzu Huang, Wenyu Lu, Zhengwei Qiao)

This large scale project compares acquisition of semantic universals such as tense (relating a proposition to time) and grammatical aspect (relating a proposition to its completion or progress) in Mandarin Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese. Korean marks both tense and aspect with inflectional morphology; Chinese only marks aspect overtly, while Vietnamese does not mark either. The missing values of these universals are supplied by context. Acquisition of the morphologically marked and contextually supplied meanings will be compared and contrasted. Findings will inform contemporary second language acquisition theory.

Pragmatic Features at the L2 Syntax-Discourse Interface (Roumyana Slabakova, Gonzalo Campos, Tania Leal Mendez, Paula Kempchinsky, Jason Rothman)

This project adopts López (2009) who offers a new theoretical model of syntax-information structure interaction, proposing a pragmatic computation module that assembles sentences into Discourse Representation Structures in parallel to the syntactic computation. The crucial information structure notions are discourse anaphor and contrast, encoded by the features [±a(naphor)] and [±c(ontrast)] which in combination account for the conditions and effects of dislocation and fronting. We test Clitic Left Dislocation (CLLD), Clitic Right Dislocation (CRLD) and Rhemes crossed with various semantic features pertaining to these structures in the interlanguage of near-native, advanced and intermediate learners of Spanish.

Transfer of Reference in the Second Language (Roumyana Slabakova, Jennifer Cabrelli Amaro, Danny Kang)

This linguistic pragmatic phenomenon involves automatic recalculation from a literal to another reference, supported by the context. The phenomenon under discussion is very similar to, and includes, calculation of metonymy. For example, in the following conversation between two waitresses in a diner, the utterance "The ham sandwich in the corner wants another coffee" refers to a customer, not to a sandwich. This process is universal and automatic once the lexical items are known, but some transferred reference may be culture-dependent. We test Spanish and Korean natives speakers’ English-language intuitions. The control experiment has the same tests translated into Spanish and Korean and judged by Spanish and Korean native speakers. The latter will or will not corroborate the claim that the phenomenon is universal.

Clitic Doubling in Spanish and English: a test for the Interface Hypothesis (Roumyana Slabakova and Ivan Ivanov)

This study investigates the extent to which the pragmatic significance of a specific syntactic construction in Spanish and Bulgarian has been acquired by near-native L2 learners whose native language (English) not only lacks that construction but also lacks the clitic system of marking referential direct and indirect objects. We compare two recent dissertations (Valenzuela 2005, 2006 and Ivanov 2009) and discuss their results as empirical tests of the Interface Hypothesis (Sorace 2006). Methodological implications of the two empirical studies are also considered.

The L2 Acquisition of Russian Motion Verbs: Examining the Syntax-Semantics Interface (J. Jacee Cho)

This project examines the L2 acquisition of interface conditioned properties of Russian motion verbs, specifically how English learners of L2 Russian acquire the syntactic and semantic properties of the Russian non-directed motion verb “khodit” and how they deal with the mapping of various meanings onto argument structures (at the syntax-semantics interface). Additionally, the larger study will examine related properties involving acquisition at the syntax-pragmatics interface to investigate possible asymmetric development and perhaps outcomes at ‘internal’ and ‘external’ interfaces in the acquisition of Russian motion verbs.

How do we Learn Inflectional Morphology?

The two projects below test two theoretical proposals on how child language acquisition proceeds and investigate whether adult second language acquisition uses the same learning routes.

The Variation Hypothesis (Roumyana Slabakova and Maggie Rice)

The Variation Hypothesis (Yang 2002, 2004, 2006) argues that in acquiring their native language, children are guided not only by innate knowledge of linguistic properties but also by the frequency of the data evidencing these properties in the surrounding linguistic input. The hypothesis has been supported with child language data on several linguistic properties. This hypothesis also makes very specific predictions about adult second language acquisition: rate of acquisition of a certain property will correlate with frequency of specific constructions in the second language that provide unambiguous cues as to that property. Verification of these predictions relies on ascertaining when a particular property appears in the grammar of the learner. For this project we will compare acquisition of three different properties, arguably supported by cues of different frequency.

The Combinatorial Variability Hypothesis in the Second Language (Roumyana Slabakova and Johnathan Gajdos)

Variability in the production and comprehension of inflectional morphology is widely attested and well documented in L2 acquisition. The sources of this variability are, however, disputed. In this paper, the authors look at the potential of Adger's (2006) Combinatorial Variability Hypothesis (CVH) to explain variable performance in this respect. The CVH explains intra-personal morphosyntactic variation as arising from the combinatorial mechanisms of language itself. It offers an evaluation metric of uninterpretable feature combinations, predicting which forms are going to surface more, and possibly even become defaults, in the acquisition of inflection. The experimental study involves English native speakers who are beginning or intermediate learners of German. They are asked to choose missing subjects among four options in copula sentences. Results indicate that, when choosing pronominal subjects, learners exhibit the pattern of errors predicted by the CVH. Frequency of the inflectional morphemes does not explain the results. The authors argue that there may be different underlying sources for variable L2 morphosyntactic performance: feature re-assembly, perceptual salience, phonological regularity, and semantic complexity may all be relevant. When all of these factors are held constant, though, and errors still persist, only language-internal explanations, such as combinatorial variability of features, are really credible.


DP Syntax and Semantics in L2 Spanish and L2/L3 Portuguese (Jason Rothman, Tiffany Judy, Michael Iverson)

This collaborative project looks at the acquisition of the syntax and semantics of non-native Spanish and Portuguese (gender and number morphology, adjectival placement, N-drop and the semantics of Bare nominals and DPs) by various groups of L1 learners (English, German, Italian and French).


The Interface Hypothesis and L1 Attrition (Jason Rothman and Michael Iverson)

This longitudinal case study combines spontaneous production data, elicited production and psycholinguistic empirical tests from a Spanish native (Chilean) speaker of L2 Brazilian Portuguese living in Brazil for the past twenty years. Data is also collected from his Spanish heritage learner children via the same methodologies. We focus on Spanish structures within the narrow syntax, juxtaposed against syntax-pragmatic interface structures to test the predictions for L1 attrition theories. The data from his children are used to explore the relationship between L1 attrition and the input this generation of speakers provided from heritage language acquisition from which we suggest modifications to the global term “incomplete acquisition”.





The Typological Proximity Model:A Look at the L3 initial State (Jason Rothman)

This project examines the role of typology and psychotypology as a formal predictor for multilingual morphosyntactic transfer. Building on previous work by Rothman and Cabrelli Amaro (2010) and Rothman (in press), this project tests the predicts of the Typological Proximity Model, which challenges the claims of the Cumulative Enhancement Model (Flynn et al. 2004) and the L2 status factor (2007) by examining L3 transfer in groups of learners using a language-pairing mirrored methodology across several grammatical domains.


Emerging Linguistic Varieties, Heritage Language Acquisition and “Incomplete Acquisition” Outcomes (Jason Rothman, Marcela Goeta-Cazzoli, Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes and Martha Young-Scholten)

This collaborative project seeks to map the morphosyntax of contact-varieties of Spanish in the US and the UK to serve as a corpus against which norms and normative assesments for heritage speaker Spanish competence can be measured. It also seeks to address questions related to non-pathological attrition and the notion of the steady state as well as providing a more fine- grained analysis of incomplete acquisition outcomes.

The L1 acquisition of Brazilian Portuguese: Implications for Linguistic Theories (Jason Rothman, Acrisio Pires)

This collaborative project examines the acquisition of monolingual Brazilian Portuguese, specifically targeting structures (syntactic and syntactic-semantic ones) where there is a mismatch between the standard dialect of BP and colloquial Portuguese varieties (e.g. inflected infinitives, the clitic system and the like). Ultimately, we seek to show how experimental acquisition research supports diachronic linguistic proposals and also what the role of literacy is in the grammatical competence of educated adults.


The Phonological Permeability Hypothesis (PPH): L3 Influence on L2 Phonological Systems (Jennifer Cabrelli and Jason Rothman)

This project is Jennifer Cabrelli’s dissertation project. Charting the influence of L3 Portuguese phonological transfer from the L3 initial state through one year of immersion of successful L2 Spanish (and vice versa), we propose the PPH which claims that L3 transfer effects on the L2 (when the L2 is acquired in adulthood) provide indirect, but robust evidence that corroborates a critical/sensitive period for the phonological component.