This article explores a grammatical structure — differential object marking (DOM) — that is particularly difficult for L2 learners to acquire. DOM is a phenomenon in which some direct objects are morphologically marked and others are not. In Hindi, animate direct objects are always marked with the objective case marker ko, whereas specific direct objects are only optionally marked with ko. Inanimate and non-specific direct objects are never marked with ko and take the unmarked nominative form. DOM in Hindi has been found to pose a problem to heritage speakers of Hindi. The present study investigates whether similar difficulties exist for foreign language learners. A cross-sectional study was conducted among 30 foreign language learners of Hindi completing an oral production task. The results suggest that the learners do not have difficulties with the concept of DOM in itself — they know that not every direct object needs to be marked —, but rather with the variable conditions under which DOM occurs. The study defines five developmental profiles, which reflect a gradual accumulation of contexts appropriately marked with the objective case.
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