[ p. 54 ]Restrictions on definiteness in second language acquisition
Affirmative and negative existentials in the L2 English of Turkish and Russian speakers
In this paper we investigate whether learners of L2 English show knowledge of the Definiteness Effect (Milsark, 1977), which restricts definite expressions from appearing in the existential there-insertion construction. There are crosslinguistic differences in how restrictions on definiteness play out. In English, definite expressions may not occur in either affirmative or negative existentials (e.g. There is a/*the mouse in my soup; There isn’t a/*the mouse in my soup). In Turkish and Russian, affirmative existentials observe a restriction similar to English, whereas negative existentials do not. We report on a series of experiments conducted with learners of English whose L1s are Turkish and Russian, of intermediate and advanced proficiency. Native speakers also took the test in English, Turkish, and Russian. The task involved acceptability judgments. Subjects were presented with short contexts, each followed by a sentence to be judged as natural/unnatural. Test items included affirmative and negative existentials, as well as items testing apparent exceptions to definiteness restrictions. Results show that both intermediate and advanced L2ers respond like English native speakers, crucially rejecting definites in negative existentials. A comparison with the groups taking the test in Russian and Turkish confirms that judgments in the L2 are quite different from the L1, suggesting that transfer cannot provide the explanation for learner success.
Keywords: Definiteness Effect, existentials, Turkish, Russian
Published online: 10 February 2012
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