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Existential quantifiers and polarity in L2 interlanguage: applying the Feature Reassembly Hypothesis

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Lardiere’s recent Feature Reassembly hypothesis about second language (L2) acquisition argues that the L2 acquisition process involves reconfiguring the sets of lexical features that occur in the native language (L1) into feature bundles appropriate to the L2 (Lardiere (2005, 2008, 2009)). We identify two tasks that L2 learners face under this proposal, namely, mapping and feature reassembly, and make specific predictions based on these tasks about the acquisition of wh-existentials and polarity items in L2 Chinese by English and Japanese speakers and L2 English by Korean and Chinese speakers. The different L1s and L2s fall into two distinct classes of existential quantifier: in Chinese, Japanese and Korean wh-words serve as existential quantifiers (in addition to their wh-interrogative function), whereas English any is morpho-phonologically distinct from English wh-words. However, Chinese shares with English the fact that its existential quantifiers are polarity sensitive, whereas those in Korean and Japanese are not. Using recent, independent sets of L2 research findings, we examine the Feature Reassembly hypotheses by testing our predictions against the results from the L2 studies. The prediction for the mapping task is born out in general, while the prediction for the feature reassembly is only partially supported. The results also highlight the strong effect of the L1’s morpho-lexical properties in the mapping process as well as in the process of feature reassembly. We conclude with implications for further research.

This talk is part of the RCEAL Tuesday Colloquia series.

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