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College of Arts & Sciences
Linguistics Program


Continuity hypotheses revisited: English L2 acquisition of Bulgarian noun phrases

Mila Tasseva-Kurktchieva

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ABSTRACT

This dissertation seeks to answer two questions: what is the fine structure of Bulgarian noun phrase and what processes are involved in the acquisition of the syntactic structure of the DP by second language learners. I propose that Bulgarian shows evidence for the functional projections GenP, NumP, PossP and QP between the lexical NP and the top functional DP, and show that PossP is the licensing site for the thematic relation , while the syntactic theta roles and are assigned to the possessive arguments by the head noun.

Next I test four of the existing hypotheses in generative second language acquisition against data from adult native speakers of English acquiring Bulgarian in both naturalistic and classroom environment. While the Full Transfer/Full Access and the Failed Functional Features hypotheses propose that the role of L1 transfer is absolute, the Structural Minimality hypothesis proposes partial role, and the Minimal Trees hypothesis declines any role of transfer at the functional level. Those hypotheses also differ in their views about the role of morphological knowledge in the process of acquisition of syntactic structures. Therefore, testing all four hypotheses with the same data will help answer some of the questions related to the role of the first language.

To test the hypotheses, I use data from four experiments that target the acquisition of gender and number agreement, definiteness, and possessive clitics in L2 Bulgarian. Using comprehension and production data I show that none of the four hypotheses can fully explain the results of this study as the L2 only functional category GenP shows the most stable production. Furthermore, the data suggests that comprehension and production take separate routes during the acquisition process.

I propose an explanation of the results of this study by classifying features into two different categories. Intrinsic features such as gender and possession are related to the morpho-syntax of the lexical item and thus are crucial to the production mode. These contrast with the extrinsic features like number and definiteness which are related to the semantic-pragmatic level and are thus crucial to the comprehension mode.