The Nature of be in the Interlanguage Representation of L1 Chinese Learners of L2 English
Soong, Lee Cheng (2004) The Nature of be in the Interlanguage Representation of L1 Chinese Learners of L2 English. Masters thesis, Universiti Putra Malaysia.
The interlanguage (IL) representations of be in second language acquisition (SLA) research have received different treatments. To some linguists, be in morphological tense forms is considered to be the easiest morpheme to acquire because it is in a local head-complement relation, taking it as a local-relation marker. Researchers have also strived to explain why be in periphrastic tense constructions is usually used by L2 learners to passivize unaccusative verbs, treating it as a pseudo-passive marker. They assume that it is probably due to incomplete acquisition of lexical properties of unaccusative verbs that makes L2 learners explicitly mark the logical object in the formal subject position with non-native auxiliary be. This study refutes the above claims by adopting Ouhalla’s analysis to give an alternative treatment to the nature of IL representations of be. Within the Principles and Parameters framework, Ouhalla (1991) postulates that be is an expletive in both morphological and periphrastic tense constructions, which has no argument structure and functions to formally hold the place of the empty Inflection node. Therefore, the study proposes that the nature of IL representations of be is an I-supporter to help instantiate I, which is stranded in non-verbal predicates, and in situations where the categorial nature of the verb becomes nominal after being joined with a nominal functional head. Therefore, be in a periphrastic tense form, which is the [be+V] complex, is hypothesized to be used to non-natively mark perfective aspectual contexts. By refuting that be is a local-relation marker, the study assumes that L2 learners could never easily acquire be-support of the Modal phrase, which is also in a local head-complement relation as with copula be and auxiliary be. In order to rebut be as a pseudo-passive marker which is mostly associated with unaccusatives, the study assumes that L2 learners will still accept the IL [be+V] complex even when the formal subject position is occupied by a logical subject, the thematic verb is either transitive or unergative in categorical nature, and the bound morpheme attached to the verb is either one of the bound morphemes –s, -ed, –en or ∅. A hundred and thirty-four subjects, who are undergraduates of B. A. (Mandarin) at Universiti Putra Malaysia, participated in an Acceptability Judgement Test and fifteen of them in an Elicited Translation Task. The findings show that although the L1 Chinese learners of L2 English have acquired be in non-verbal predicates, they have difficulty in acquiring be-support of Modal phrases. Furthermore, the subjects accepted and produced the IL [be+V] complex even when the formal subject of the sentence is a logical subject, the thematic verb is either transitive or unergative in categorical nature, and they attached one of the bound morphemes –s, -ed, –en, or ∅ to the verb in the complex. In sum, the findings of the study suggest that the claims that be in morphological tense forms is a local-relation marker, and be in periphrastic tense forms is a pseudo-passive marker can be refuted. It is argued that the subjects are able to reset the [±overt] feature specification of I instantiation from [-overt] in Chinese to [+overt] in English. Furthermore, they have no problem mapping the [+overt] feature to the morphological form of I-supporter be in morphological tense constructions. However, when there is an added layer of Aspect categorial feature, the subjects encounter difficulties realizing the [+V] feature specification of perfective aspect element, and mapping it onto the morphological form have. Rather, they take the Asp element to be nominal, and unconsciously realizing that I is stranded, they instantiate I with the I-supporter be. In conclusion, the nature of be in IL representations of L1 Chinese learners of L2 English is an I-supporter which helps instantiate stranded I in both morphological and periphrastic tense constructions as postulated by Ouhalla (1991).
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