Road and Narrow Constraints on the English Dative Alternation: Some Fundamental Differences Between Native Speakers and Foreign Language Learners

Bley-Vroman, Robert
Yoshinaga, Naoko
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The acquisition of lexico-semantic constraints on syntactic structures is central to the development of native language competence. The study of the acquisition of such constraints by foreign language learners can illuminate differences between native and foreign language competence and their respective acquisition processes. One view of foreign language learning, the Fundamental Difference Hypothesis, suggests that the universal acquisition mechanisms which guide children in first language development may not be available to adults learning foreign languages. This view leads to the expectation that certain sorts of lexico-semantic constraints –the "broad" constraints based in theta theory– should be reliably acquired by foreign language learners, while those based on narrow semantic classes of verbs should not be. Two studies test these predictions, comparing the knowledge of the broad and narrow constraints on the English dative alternation by native speakers and non-native speakers with Japanese as first language. The results are generally consistent with the predictions, but additional research will be needed to sort out the effect of associative mechanisms and of universal motivating factors, such as the principle of object affectedness.
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