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Colloquium: Acrisio Pires: "Syntactic competence and access to Universal Grammar by second language learners"

Friday, February 20, 2015
12:00 AM
3254 LSA Building

Syntactic competence and access to Universal Grammar by second language learners

Acrisio Pires will deliver today's colloquium presentation. The title and abstract of his presentation are given below.

Syntactic competence and access to Universal Grammar by second language learners

In the investigation of syntactic competence, there is an ongoing debate concerning the extent to which Universal Grammar is accessible in the second language competence of late learners, especially adults.  Under one type of theory, referred to as Full Access approaches, second language syntactic competence is argued to be fully constrained by Universal Grammar (UG); proposals of this type may differ as to whether they argue in favor of full transfer of the syntactic features of a first language to the initial state of second language acquisition, making it partially distinct from the initial state of first language learners (see e.g., Schwartz & Sprouse, 1996; White, 2003; Epstein, Flynn & Martohardjono, 1996; Vainikka & Young-Scholten, 1994).  

A competing type of theory proposes a reduction in the nature of UG-accessibility. In this approach, referred to as Representational Deficit Hypothesis, only a subset of features of UG remains available to late second language learners; specifically, uninterpretable features that are not part of the particular subset of syntactic features of the first language would not remain available to late second language learners after a critical period for their acquisition (e.g., Hawkins & Hattori, 2006; Tsimpli & Dimitrakopoulou, 2007).

In this talk I will discuss results from three studies on the syntactic knowledge of late second language learners, focusing on features of their second language that are arguably not instantiated in their first language. I will discuss to which extent these results may shed light on the debate about the nature of UG-accessibility in the syntax of a second language.