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Behaviours of wh-words in English speakers’ L2 Chinese wh-questions: variability at different L2 interfaces.

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Room changed to GR-06/07

Behaviours of wh-words in English speakers’ L2 Chinese wh-questions: variability at different L2 interfaces.

In recent years, many L2 studies have focused on the relationship between functional categories and their morphological/phonological realizations in L2 acquisition, and the relationship between lexical morphology and syntax or between semantics and syntax has not received much attention. In this talk, I will demonstrate that we cannot take it for granted that grammatical aspects at interface levels can be acquired by L2 learners. I will argue that the lexical morphology-syntax interface and the semantics-syntax interface can be loci of variability in L2 acquisition.

Chinese is generally treated as a “pure” wh-in-situ language in L2 research, and few people have done research in how different wh-words behave in L2 acquisition of wh-questions. In my talk, I will demonstrate that wh-nominals and wh-adverbs have different behaviours in Chinese and that movement and island effects do exist in Chinese wh-questions with wh-adverbs. I will report on an empirical study examining behaviours of different wh-words in English speakers’ L2 Chinese wh-questions.

It is assumed that C0 in wh-questions is essentially ambiguous and unvalued with respect to specification of force and that unvalued C0 must be valued. The valuation can be carried out by merging a wh-particle into C0, as in Chinese, or by moving a wh-phrase to Spec CP, as in English. 106 English speakers of Chinese and 20 native speakers of Chinese are involved in the study, whose aims are to find out: (a) how C0 in wh-questions is valued in L2 Chinese grammars at the initial, intermediate and final stages; (b) whether the valuation of C0 by the wh-particle ne in L2 Chinese implies the wh-in-situ; (c) whether wh-adverbs in L2 Chinese, but not wh-nominals, have an operator feature which has to move to Spec CP.

Results of an acceptability judgment test indicate that C0 of wh-questions in English speakers’ L2 Chinese grammars is valued by the merging of the Chinese wh-particle ne into C0 and that there is no L1 transfer in this aspect of L2 grammars as no wh-movement is found in English speakers’ L2 Chinese. However, there is evidence that wh-words do not develop in a uniform fashion and that different wh-words behave differently at different Chinese proficiency levels. While English speakers’ L2 Chinese grammars correctly accept Chinese wh-questions with shei “who” and shenme “what” embedded in islands and reject those with weishenme “why”, there is variable operator raising in shenmeshihou “when” and nar “where” at beginner and intermediate levels. This variable raising disappears at post-intermediate and advanced levels. However, the variable operator raising is persistent in zenme(yang) “how” and it is found even at the advanced level. I will provide an account for the variability on the basis of problems at L2 lexical morphology-syntax and semantics-syntax interfaces.

This talk is part of the RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia series.

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