Feature composition in Differential Object Marking
In this paper we examine the acquisition of interpretable features in English L2 learners of Spanish by investigating the personal preposition a in Spanish. The presence 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); that is, personal a is constrained by the interpretability of semantic features. Forty-nine English L2 learners of Spanish of different proficiency levels, and 16 Spanish controls participated in an Acceptability Judgement task. The results showed that L2 learners of Spanish across three proficiency levels behaved differently from native speakers of Spanish. The L2 learners seem to have attained some of the interpretable features (i.e., [±animate]) of the Spanish a-DP direct objects, but reveal delays with others. Nonetheless, our data illustrate partial convergence by advanced learners with the native speakers: some interpretable features are attainable, while others may be less accessible and subject to developmental processes. In analyzing our data we draw on Lardiere’s (2008, 2009) Feature Reassembly Hypothesis, but expanded and extended it in an attempt to critically evaluate and broaden it.