Reexamining the acquisition of null subject pronouns in a second language
Focus on referential and pragmatic constraints
This study re-examines the L2 acquisition of referential and pragmatic properties of null and overt subject pronouns by advanced English learners of Spanish under the assumption that both forms display levels of complexity at the syntax–pragmatics interface. Our main hypothesis is that null subjects should be as difficult to acquire as overt subjects, challenging current generative accounts (e.g., the Interface Hypothesis) in which the acquisition of null subjects is problem-free. Data obtained by a group of 20 advanced English speakers of Spanish in a Picture Verification Task and a Context-Matching Preference Task corroborate this hypothesis. Results show that L2 speakers over-accept null subjects and find it difficult to reject them when an overt pronoun is preferred by the controls. We propose that they may be using null subjects as a default form as they have an incomplete knowledge of the pragmatic constraints governing the use of pro in context.
Keywords: L2 acquisition, syntax–pragmatics interface, null subjects, topic shift
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