Sepideh Mortazavinia’s Thesis Defence

Congratulations to Sepideh Mortazavinia for a successful thesis defence on Friday June 1st 2018! Below find the abstract from her thesis.


One of the differences between first language (L1) acquisition, which is always successful, and second language (L2) acquisition, where convergence on target-like representations is not always possible, is that L2 learners are already equipped with the fully established system of their L1. In fact, a great body of literature has shown that L2 learners demonstrate systematic errors in the L2 which can be attributed to the properties of their L1. The present study contributes to this area of research on the role of L1 transfer by investigating the L2 acquisition of semantic properties related to the word even across English and Persian. In particular, focus will be on the additive presupposition of even and how it is manifested in the two languages. The study will consider two learning directions: L1 Persian L2 English and L1 English L2 Persian. These two languages differ in the ways the additive presupposition is encoded: In English, the additive presupposition of even is triggered only when even is used in prenominal syntactic position. I assume that this presupposition is covertly expressed because it is not encoded in an overt lexical item and is constrained by syntax. Besides, the expression of this presupposition is indirect, because it is a secondary function of even, assuming that this particle is used to express surprise, unexpectedness, or unlikelihood primarily. Therefore, the assumption will be that L1 English L2 learners of Persian start off by a covert and indirect system of encoding the additive presupposition from their L1. L1 Persian L2 learners of English, on the other hand, start off by an overt and direct system of encoding additivity: the additive presupposition is lexicalized on an additive operator ham which overtly and directly triggers this presupposition.

In this study, the Feature Reassembly Hypothesis (FRH) (Lardiere 2005, 2008, 2009, and subsequent work) was implemented as the theoretical standpoint to investigate the extent to which L2 learners in both languages fail and/or succeed at acquiring the semantic system of the L2s, as described above. This theory assumes a mapping stage in L2 acquisition where learners map their L1 feature specifications onto the L2, as well as a reassembly stage triggered by inconsistencies between the L2 input and the L1, where the L2 learners reconfigure their feature organizations onto those of the L2. Felicity judgment experiments were designed and administered on two proficiency learner groups, intermediate and advanced, in order to monitor L2 development in both stages of acquisition. The results indicated strong lingering L1 effects in both proficiency groups for both L2 learning directions which were identified as sources of difficulty in converging on target-like feature configuration. In particular, the L1 Persian L2 learners of English demonstrated that dissociating from an L1 feature which is overtly expressed in favour of acquiring an L2 covert system of encoding the same feature presents considerable challenge to the L2 learners. In addition, the L1 English L2 learners of Persian showed that it is not difficult to learn the absence of an L1 covert and indirect encoding system in the L2. It is, however, challenging to acquire the overt L2 system when the native language offers an indirect way of expressing the same feature.




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