Child second language acquisition and grammatical theories: The Minimalist Program and optimality theory
AdvisorTroike, Rudolph C.
Committee ChairTroike, Rudolph C.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThe aim of linguistic theory is to explain what knowledge of language consists of and how this knowledge is acquired. Generative linguistics, which had set out to achieve this goal, has recently seen the development of two main approaches to Universal Grammar (UG). One is the Minimalist Program (MP) and the other is Optimality Theory (OT). In the MP framework, language is claimed to be acquired through parameter setting, while in OT language acquisition is viewed as a constraint reranking process. In this study, I compare the two evolving linguistic theories in relation to child L2 acquisition phenomena; that is, how and whether the two different approaches to UG could be used to account for language development in real time. The database for this study was a corpus of natural and elicited-interview speech collected by the National Center for Bilingual Research from six Korean children learning English as an L2 in a bilingual education school program. Two constructions, null arguments and wh-questions produced by the Korean children in their developing L2 English, were chosen for in-depth investigation. The data analysis shows that (1) the children dropped few subjects from the early stages, (2) the children dropped more objects than subjects, (3) the children did not apply subject-verb inversion in why -questions, and (4) of the wh-questions, when-questions were one of the last to appear in the children's developing English. It was examined whether these four findings could be explained within the MP and the OT frameworks. The MP and OT in their present forms, however, do not seem to be able to fully account for the data. I have proposed some adaptations of the theories and explored plausible explanations. The overall picture emerging from the study is that the gradual nature of language development can best be explained as being a result of the incremental acquisition of the lexicon. The relationship between linguistic theory and acquisition studies, especially second language acquisition studies, has been unidirectional, from theory to acquisition (SLA) studies. It is to be hoped that this study may contribute to connecting the gap between linguistic theory and SLA studies, and making their relationship more bidirectional.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
Second Language Acquisition and Teaching