Null objects in L2 European Portuguese

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


In recent years, generative SLA research has started to examine the role of input in grammar acquisition (Rothman/Slabakova2017), a factor that was traditionally neglected in thisfield. According to some authors (e.g., Dominguez/Arche2014; Slabakova2015), properties at the syntax-discourse interface, which are proposed to be the main area of permanent difficulties in L2 acquisition by the Interface Hypothesis (Sorace/Filiaci2006; Sorace2011), only cause persistent difficulties to L2 learners when the evidence in the input is not frequent and transparent and the L1 and the L2 differ. The acquisition of null objects (NO) in European Portuguese (EP) is an appropriate testing ground for this hypothesis, because: (i) they are more productive in spoken/colloquial registers than in standard EP, where clitics are the preferred pronominal option (Rinke2022); (ii) the possibility of definite NO distinguishes EP from other Romance languages, namely Spanish; and (iii) EP NO involve the syntaxdiscourse interface (NO require a salient and immediately accessible antecedent in the discourse or in the situational context), as well as the syntax-semantics interface (NO tend to be inanimate). These properties have been extensively investigated in L1 EP (e.g., Flores/Rinke/Sopata2020), but not in L2.
To fill this gap, this study investigates the acquisition of clitics and NO in L2 EP. Participants were 25 L1 EP speakers and 30 L1 Spanish-L2 EP adult learners (10 intermediates, 10 advanced, 10 nearnatives). We tested clitics and NO using two tasks that have been proposed to tap primarily into implicit knowledge (Ellis2005): an elicited oral production task (EOPT) and a timed written acceptability judgement task (TAJT). Both tasks crossed the variables accessibility of the antecedent (immediately vs. not immediately accessible) and animacy (animate vs. inanimate).
In the EOPT, all groups produced significantly more clitics than NO across conditions and no significant effects of animacy and accessibility were found. This may be due to the fact that clitics seem to be the preferred option in EP. In the TAJT, the groups also accepted clitics significantly more than NO in all conditions. Regarding NO, the native group exhibits significant effects of animacy (acceptance of NO is higher in the inanimate condition) and accessibility (acceptance of NO is higher
in the immediately accessible condition). None of the L2 groups displays these effects.
Based on these results, we tentatively conclude that: (i) contrary to the prediction of the Interface Hypothesis, grammar-internal properties are not always fully acquirable in an L2; (ii) at least when the L1 and the L2 differ, learners may have permanent difficulties wrt interface properties which are infrequent in the input; and (iii) input factors do not affect only the syntaxdiscourse interface, since grammar-internal interfaces may also be affected (contra, e.g., Slabakova2015; Sorace2014). However, we cannot exclude the possibility that participants’ low acceptance of NO in the TAJT (the task thatshould force the acceptance of NO if they are allowed in their grammars) may be an effect of task modality. For this reason, we are currently replicating the TAJT in spoken modality. These results will
be reported in the presentation.
Period13 Jul 2023
Event titleL2 Portuguese @ Lancaster
Event typeConference
LocationLancaster, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational