The 31st Second Language Research Forum
Building Bridges Between Disciplines: SLA in Many Contexts
October 18-21, 2012

Conference Program

Colloquium III:  Functional and Formal Approaches to SLA

Organized by:
Dr. Alan Juffs, University of Pittsburgh
Dr. Yasuhiro Shirai, University of Pittsburgh

It is generally recognized that linguistic approaches to SLA draw on various theoretical frameworks. Often, these frameworks are seen as being incompatible. In this colloquium, we seek to explore the ways in which these approaches can be brought together in providing explanations for acquisition that relies both on input and on existing linguistic knowledge, whether it is formal or functional. We will also be considering the strengths of the approaches in appropriate domains. Rather than talking at cross purposes, the colloquium will seek to clarify positions and identify strengths in explaining diverse linguistic phenomena.

Subject expression in L2 Spanish: Convergence of Formal and Functional Perspectives?
Eve Zyzik
University of California, Santa Cruz

The extensive literature on subject expression in L2 Spanish makes for rich comparisons between generative (formal) and functional approaches to language acquisition. Early generative research focused on the syntactic properties associated with the null-subject parameter, including subject-verb inversion, null expletives, and that-t effects (cf. Liceras, 1989, Al-Kasey & Pérez-Leroux, 1998, among others). In contrast, functional research has always been concerned with the distribution of various types of referential expressions in discourse (cf. Lubbers Quesada & Blackwell, 2009) and how pragmatic rules can clarify learners’ often infelicitous use of overt subjects. This paper examines how formal and functional approaches are compatible, especially in light of the contemporary interest in interface phenomena (cf. Montrul, 2011) and the move towards functionally-driven explanations of L2 production data by some generative researchers (e.g., Montrul & Rodríguez Louro, 2006; Rothman, 2009).

Explain me this: how we learn what not to say
Adele E. Goldberg
Princeton University

Although many constraints are motivated by general semantic or syntactic facts, in certain cases, formulations are semantically sensible and syntactically well-formed, and yet noticeably dispreferred (e.g., ??She explained him the story; ??the afraid boy). Results from several experiments are reviewed that suggest that competition in context—statistical preemption--plays a key role in learning what not to say in these cases.  I will also suggest a domain-general mechanism that may well underlie this process.

Input and Universal Grammar
Charles Yang
University of Pennsylvania

It is often assumed that input and Universal Grammar (UG) are mutually exclusive components in theories of language acquisition. However, this is not an accurate interpretation of the theoretical and empirical work in the UG tradition (Chomsky 1965, Wexler & Culicover 1980, Berwick 1985, Pinker 1999, Yang 2002). In this talk, we show that input effects are compatible with, and can be fruitfully incorporated into a UG based quantitative approach to acquisition (e.g., Yang 2004; Trends in Cognitive Science). Moreover, input effects can play an important role in differentiating competing accounts of the learner's grammar system. Finally, we discuss the implications of these findings for second language acquisition research.

Verbal aspect in SLA: Knowing it and using it is not the same
Theres Grüter
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

Verbal aspect has been of long-standing interest in SLA, with previous work focusing on how learners acquire formal restrictions on the combination of grammatical and lexical aspect. Yet aspect has repercussions in native-language processing that go far beyond form-meaning mappings: native speakers use aspect in its function as an indicator of event structure to guide their probabilistic expectations about discourse coherence and continuations (Kehler et al., 2008). Here we ask whether L2 learners who have mastered the relevant form-meaning mappings similarly draw on aspect in discourse processing. Results from Japanese- and Korean- speaking learners of English indicate a diminished effect of aspect in the non-native compared to the native-speaker group. We hypothesize that this is due to non-native speakers’ Reduced Ability to Generate Expectations during language processing, a hypothesis built on the premise that static knowledge (formal or functional) is not enough—the critical point is the dynamic deployment of this knowledge in the course of language processing.

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