Metalinguistic Knowledge and the Acquisition of the Spanish Subjunctive by Learners at Three Proficiency Levels
Committee ChairEcke, Peter M.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractOne of the most controversial topics in Applied Linguistics is the role of learners' metalinguistic knowledge (MK) in second language (L2) learning and teaching. There seems to be no agreement between those who propose that MK is essential for L2 learning and those who believe that it can even be detrimental for L2 acquisition.Additionally, the subjunctive has been reported to be one of the most difficult structures to master for L2 learners of Spanish. It has been suggested that the subjunctive is acquired fairly late in an acquisition hierarchy of Spanish grammar and that, as a consequence, learners must reach a stage where they can produce syntactically sophisticated utterances in order to be "ready" for acquisition.Taking an Information Processing (IP) approach to language learning as a framework, this dissertation investigates the relationship between MK and grammatical accuracy by learners of Spanish at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels of proficiency. Their MK is assessed through a set of terminology and grammaticality judgment tasks. Their mastery of the Spanish subjunctive is evaluated through a set of receptive and productive tests involving different subordinate clauses.The three groups of participants are compared with respect to their MK and their mastery of the subjunctive, and it is examined whether MK correlates with mastery of the subjunctive. Findings include: 1) an improvement on both subjunctive accuracy and terminology knowledge across levels; 2) a positive correlation between English MK and Spanish MK; 3) a positive correlation between MK and accuracy in the use of the subjunctive; and 4) agreement between the learners' acquisition hierarchy within the subjunctive and teaching order of subjunctive substructures.The findings show that MK has a positive impact on the mastery of this "difficult" structure. They are also consistent with other experimental studies that suggest that explicit instruction has a positive impact on L2 learning. The late and uneven acquisition of the subjunctive demonstrated by the subjects in this study also suports the hypothesis that there are "many subjunctives" to learn and that learners will not acquire this structure until they are developmentally ready (third year of instruction).
Degree ProgramSecond Language Acquisition & Teaching