Linguistics and English Language

Developmental linguistics

Speaker: Theres Grüter (Hawaii)

Title: Is overreliance on lexicosemantics in second language processing evidence for representational deficits?

Abstract: The field of (formal approaches to) Second Language Acquisition has been shaped by a long-standing debate between Representational Deficit and Processing/Performance accounts. Whereas the former locate persistent differences between native (L1) and non-native (L2) speakers at the level of linguistic competence, the latter hold that grammatical representations in L1 and L2 can be of the same kind, and any observable differences between L1 and L2 users are effects of cognitive resource or performance limitations. A key component of Representational Deficit accounts, such as the Shallow Structure Hypothesis (Clahsen & Felser, 2006, 2017), is that L2 speakers may compensate for less robust grammatical representations by relying more heavily on nongrammatical information, including lexicosemantics and discourse. Evidence of greater sensitivity to nongrammatical vs grammatical cues is then taken as support for Representational Deficit accounts.

In this talk, I will challenge the logic that greater reliance on lexicosemantics necessarily supports accounts that propose representational deficits as a consequence of maturational changes in language learning ability (aka Critical Period hypothesis for L2 acquisition). Based on evidence from two studies on the learning and processing of prenominal classifiers in L2 Chinese, I will show that greater sensitivity to lexicosemantic vs grammatical cues may indeed be characteristic of L2 (vs L1) processing, under certain circumstances. Yet I will argue that these differences may be explained as a consequence of different learning trajectories in a later learned vs a first learned language, which in turn follow from differences in prior knowledge. Greater reliance on lexicosemantics in L2 may thus be an adaptation to the outcome of a different learning trajectory shaped by prior knowledge, not a consequence of a maturationally conditioned decline in the ability to form grammatical representations in a later learned language.


Hannah Rohde

May 28 2018 -

Developmental linguistics

2018-05-28: Is overreliance on lexicosemantics in second language processing evidence for representational deficits?

Room S38, Psychology Building, 7 George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JZ