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Document Type

Open Access

Degree Program

Hispanic Literatures & Linguistics

Degree Type

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Year Degree Awarded

2014

Month Degree Awarded

February

Keywords

Second Language Acquisition, Linguistics, Spanish, Article Acquisition

Abstract

Previous studies on the acquisition of definite plurals in Child and Second Language Acquisition have found strong evidence on how transfer can affect the L2-acquisition of articles. Nevertheless, these studies presented some limitations. First, they failed to consider other variables that could interfere with transfer in the acquisition of the article system. And second, the methodology used to test the participants’ implicit knowledge of article system was very similar in all studies (Truth-Value Judgment Task). In order to fill these two gaps in the literature, the present study uses a listening comprehension task to test how the mass/count distinction can affect the interpretation of definite plurals in intermediate L1-English L2-Spanish learners. This study also adds another variable, the type of verb, to test whether the mass/count distinction equally affects L1-English L2-Spanish interpretations’ of the Spanish article system throughout different kind of verbs. Two types of verbs were used: gustar-like verbs (psychological verbs) and non-psychological verbs. These verbs were used in questions, so their different syntactic characteristics were neutralized.

Two experiments were created following the same guidelines, but using a different type of verb. First, the participants were shown a situation in a computer screen. These situations were controlled so both specific and generic readings could be interpreted. After reading each situation, a question, which could either trigger a specific

or a generic reading, was asked orally to the participants. Written responses were collected from each participant, and coded as either ‘generic’, ‘specific’, or ‘other’.

The results of this thesis show highly statistically significant differences for how L1-English L2-Spanish learners interpret count and mass nouns. On the one hand, L1-English L2-Spanish tended to interpret count nouns as specific. On the other, they showed a strong tendency to interpret mass nouns as generic. In this sense, the statistical analysis conducted suggests that L1-English L2-Spanish and Spanish native speakers converged in their implicit knowledge of definite plurals containing mass nouns. Nevertheless, native speakers and L2-Spanish learners significantly differed in their interpretations of countable nouns. All of these patterns were found for both psychological and non-psychological verbs. The present study found very similar rates of generic responses for non-psychological verbs in L2-Spanish as previously reported by Ionin and Montrul (2012) and Ionin, Montrul, and Crivós (2011). Interestingly, the rates of generic responses for psychological verbs were much higher and diverged a bit from the results of Ionin and Montrul (2012) and Ionin, Montrul, and Crivós (2011).

I discuss the importance of these results for the field of Second Language Acquisition and Semantics.

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Advisor(s) or Committee Chair

Amaral, Luiz