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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Hispanic Literatures & Linguistics

Year Degree Awarded

2016

Month Degree Awarded

September

First Advisor

Luiz Amaral

Second Advisor

Tom Roeper

Subject Categories

First and Second Language Acquisition

Abstract

Linguistic theory has increasingly revolved around the notion of recursion. Most recently, many have advocated a view wherein it forms the essence of the Language Acquisition Device (LAD) purportedly contained in the human mind, while others have argued that it remains a separate and not necessarily related component of language processing. L1 Acquisition theory has suggested that appropriate recursive input is required to activate the LAD’s recursive faculties; nonetheless, L1 recursive structures may resist instruction and cause initial confusion among children. The effect that any of this may have on L2 has only begun to be studied.

This dissertation attempts to fill this gap in knowledge by describing two experiments which concentrate on the interpretation of adjacent prepositional phrases (PPs). The first experiment exploits the similarity of PPs in Spanish and English by using identical prompts in both languages and with both L1 and L2 speakers, while the second experiment studies the growth of their recursivity in L1 acquisition in English. Both experiments also study the effect that unique pairs of prepositions have on this as well as the effect created by extending the chain of adjacent PPs beyond only two.

The results provide a valuable insight into the interpretation of these structures. Recursive responses suggest an L2 path to acquisition which may result in L1 levels of performance. Yet Spanish and English each display their own behavior patterns, revealing dissimilarities that suggest Spanish possesses a more productive right-recursive rule than does English. Growth in L1 child English is also clearly observed in some scenarios but not in all. The important role individual prepositions clearly play is observed in both experiments, with unique pairs having unique levels of recursion. Increasing complexity of the NP based on number of PPs also entrenches recursion in interpretation. Nonetheless, certain participants resist recursion in multiple scenarios, a fact which may support an argument for targeted recursive input.

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