Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • Prosodic Phrasing and Modifier Attachment in Standard Arabic Sentence Processing

    Author:
    Hala Abdelghany
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Janet Fodor
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the syntax-prosody interface in Standard Arabic, focusing on the ambiguity of a modifier (relative clause or adjective phrase) in relation to the two nouns in a complex noun phrase. Ambiguity resolution tendencies for this construction differ across languages, contrary to otherwise universal parsing tendencies. One explanation proposed is Fodor's (2000) Implicit Prosody Hypothesis: that readers mentally project onto a text a default prosodic phrasing (possibly different between languages), which then influences their syntactic ambiguity resolution. Since implicit (silent) prosody cannot be directly observed, previous research has had to infer it by analogy with overt prosody. But the phonology and orthography of SA permit use of novel methods for tapping into the silent prosody of readers. Liaison phenomena sensitive to prosodic boundaries make phonological phrasing in SA very easy to detect. Also, liaison is indicated by diacritics in the `vowelized' version of SA orthography. Thus, clear data on prosodic phrasing patterns in SA complex nominals can be related to their preferred syntactic/semantic interpretations. Six experiments are reported: three production experiments and three perception experiments. Participants in Experiment 4 silently read sentences in unvowelized orthography, and added diacritics as they thought appropriate. The inserted diacritics gave evidence of their implicit prosodic phrasing of the sentence. Experiments 5 and 6 investigated Arabic speakers' preferred overt prosodic phrasing when the modifier was forced to attach to either the lower or the higher noun, providing standards for comparison with the prosodic phrasing preferences in silent reading in Experiment 4. The orthography was put to a different use in assessing modifier interpretation under varying prosodic conditions. In Experiments 2 and 3, vowelized text was presented, establishing one or other of two relevant prosodic patterns. Participants read aloud, and then indicated their interpretation of the sentence. This provided standards for comparison with modifier interpretation (attachment preferences) in silent reading of unvowelized texts (lacking prosodic disambiguation) in Experiment 1. Results obtained from these experiments provide new information concerning the constraints that apply at the syntax-prosody interface in SA, and also support the hypothesis of an effect of implicit prosody on syntactic interpretation during silent reading.

  • Systematic Asymmetries in Perception and Production of L2 Inflections in Mandarin L2 Learners of English: The Effects of Phonotactics, Salience, and Processing Pressure on Inflectional Variability

    Author:
    Timothy Bonner
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Gita Martohardjono
    Abstract:

    The study of language production by adults who are learning a second language (L2) has received a good deal of attention especially when it comes to omission of inflectional morphemes within L2 utterances. Several explanations have been proposed for these inflectional errors. One explanation is that the L2 learner simply does not have the L2 syntactic or prosodic representation in his grammar leading to omission of surface inflections (Hawkins & Liszka, 2003; Goad, White, & Steele, 2003, respectively). Others attribute L2 errors to mapping problems between the lexicon and syntax (Prévost & White, 2000; Lardiere, 1998, 2003). Another potential explanation for the variable production of inflectional endings is that it may be due to performance factors as in Hopp (2009) and Martohardjono, Valian, and Klein (2012) or to "Extra-syntactic" factors as proposed in Klein (2004) or to syllable repairs due to L1 phonotactic interference as proposed in Davidson (2005, 2006a, 2006b). This dissertation claims that when L2 morphosyntactic representations are shown to be available in the L2 learner's grammar, L2 inflectional variability can be attributed to L1 phonotactic interference, salience of the L2 inflection, and performance factors leading to systematic, but asymmetrical patterns of perception and production of the allomorphs that represent the surface L2 inflections. The results revealed that the target inflections were not omitted across the board as would be expected under deficit accounts. On the contrary, repairs of the final target coda clusters (i.e., schwa epenthesis before and after the final inflectional consonant and devoicing of the word-final consonants) revealed patterns that are consistent with the degree of syllabicity (e.g., [Vd] vs. [t] and [d]) and sonority (e.g., [s] vs. [t]) of the allomorph or coda and are not indicative of morphosyntactic deficits. Importantly, schwa epenthesis was applied asymmetrically (i.e., particularly to stops [t] and [d]) in clusters that contained target codas and inflectional allomorphs in real, nonce, and monomorphemic items, and thus, this repair pattern is contra the Prosodic Transfer Hypothesis of Goad et al. (2003). Overall, this dissertation presents an alternative explanation for L2 inflectional errors outside of the morphosyntactic and prosodic deficit arguments.

  • THE USE OF LE BY L1 CHINESE SPEAKERS AND THE ACQUISITION OF LE BY L2 CHINESE LEARNERS

    Author:
    CHI CHEN BREDECHE
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    GITA MARTOHARDJONO
    Abstract:

    The perfective marker V-le is claimed to be one of the most problematic items in the acquisition of L2 Chinese, perhaps because no unified and comprehensive treatment of it exists in the literature. Although much has been written on this topic, the semantic and pragmatic functions of V-le have remained elusive. While linguists and grammarians all agree that V-le performs multiple functions, there has been no consensus on its meaning and usage. Adding to this complex situation is that V-le is not always syntactically obligatory in Mandarin Chinese. Even though scholars are well aware of the phenomenon of "optionality" with Chinese aspect markers, disagreement and ambiguity prevail. Smith (1997) claims that V-le, like other aspect markers in Chinese, is always syntactically optional. Li and Thompson (1981) claim that the use of V-le depends largely on the speaker's viewpoint as to whether an event is "bounded" or not. Both seem to suggest global optionality. In contrast, textbooks written for Chinese L2 learners discuss V-le as obligatory in various different contexts. Having found no established and unified treatment of V-le that reflects native speaker's knowledge regarding its obligatory and optional use, we conducted a larger survey of 482 native speakers, 316 adolescents and 166 adults, in an attempt to capture some generalizations on the obligatory and optional use of -le in various contexts. Our results show a range of frequencies, from very high (98% to 100%) in the context of accomplishment predicates and activity predicates as the first event in a sequence; to high (67% to 84%) in the context of achievement predicates; to variable (31% to 64%) in the context of resultative verb complements. We argue that this pattern of V-le suppliance can be derived by positing a hierarchy of boundedness in the predicate and that it follows a redundancy principle in discourse. The results from learners' data suggest that they acquired the knowledge of the perfective marking in the obligatory context after 300-400 hours of classroom instruction. They consistently used -le with accomplishment verbs and activity verbs as the first event in a sequence. They also consistently omitted -le with resultative verb complements, a hint of their implicit understanding of the semantic cues given by the predicates. In sum, the learners had a good understanding of the semantic properties of the verb class and had acquired a good, but not yet native-like, knowledge about the interaction between the perfective marker V-le and the lexical and semantic properties of different verb type categories.

  • Non-standard Italian Dialect Heritage Speakers' Acquisition of Clitic Placement in Standard Italian

    Author:
    Lionel Chan
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Gita Martohardjono
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the acquisition of object clitic placement in Standard Italian by heritage speakers (HSs) of non-standard Italian dialects. It compares two different groups of Standard Italian learners--Northern Italian dialect HSs and Southern Italian dialect HSs--whose heritage dialects contrast with each other in clitic word order. The syntactic constructions tested include restructuring contexts (i.e., constructions in which clitic climbing can take place), and negative first- and second-person informal imperatives. The overarching research question guiding this pilot study is to determine what influences non-standard Italian dialect HSs' clitic placement when learning these constructions in Standard Italian. Three possible sources that may motivate these speakers' clitic placement in Standard Italian are considered: heritage non-standard Italian dialects; universal principles and dominant language transfer (English). A secondary research question of this study investigates whether there is a universal preference for encliticization. Participants completed two experimental tasks. The first was an Oral Elicited Imitation task that focused HSs' usage of clitics, whereas the second was a Grammaticality Judgment task that examined HSs' explicit knowledge of this property. The overall findings of this pilot study suggest that HSs parallel their heritage dialect clitic word order in their usage of Standard Italian, even though they are aware that another structure is possible in the standard dialect. The results also show only weak evidence to support a universal preference for encliticization, as suggested by the data gathered in previous studies (Bruhn-Garavito & Montrul 1996; Duffield & White 1999; Montrul 2010a; 2010b). A pedagogical implication based on this pilot study's findings is that when teaching standard dialect syntax, pedagogues should differentiate instruction based on learners' heritage non-standard dialectal background.

  • The Inner Workings of Text Summarization Systems

    Author:
    Hope Cotton
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Virginia Teller
    Abstract:

    THE INNER WORKINGS OF AUTOMATIC TEXT SUMMARIZATION SYSTEMS: MEAD AND SWESUM

  • THE EFFECT OF MORPHOLOGICAL AWARENESS ON READING COMPREHENSION: A STUDY WITH ADOLESCENT SPANISH-ENGLISH EMERGENT BILINGUALS

    Author:
    Rebecca Curinga
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Elaine Klein
    Abstract:

    The present research examines the role of morphological awareness in reading comprehension of high school emergent bilinguals. As an increasing number of research studies contribute to our understanding of morphological awareness, i.e. the ability to reflect on and manipulate morphologically complex derived words, we are better able to appreciate some essential components of reading that may have been overlooked in past decades. Previous research suggests that morphological awareness contributes to academic reading vocabulary and higher-level text comprehension, both crucial to the success of secondary school students in the United States (U.S.). The population in the present study is newcomer Spanish-speaking high school students who have a range of reading ability in the first language (L1), and have emerging second language (L2) English and literacy skills. There are two overarching research questions in this study: the first considers the role of linguistic variables, namely Spanish-English cognates, the frequency of morphologically complex derived words, the degree of phonological transparency in morphologically related words, and the linguistic context: semantic or syntactic. The second examines the effect of morphological awareness on reading comprehension in the L1 Spanish, in the L2 English, and across these languages. The effect of morphological awareness on reading comprehension is considered through reading vocabulary as a mediating variable, and analyzed with a series of multiple regression path analyses. Both questions consider differences between L1 Spanish low-proficiency (2nd - 4th grade) and high-proficiency (7th -11th grade) readers. Several important contributions come from this study. The first is that linguistic variables do have a significant effect on morphological awareness, with strongest effects from cognates and frequency in English. Second, morphological awareness makes a strong contribution to reading comprehension in both the L1 Spanish and L2 English; and the shared contribution of morphological awareness and reading vocabulary of these two predictors together is strongest. Furthermore, L1 morphological awareness contributes to L2 reading comprehension for those who are reading above the third grade proficiency in English. Implications from this research suggest that higher morphological awareness skills in L1 Spanish helps to foster L2 English vocabulary and reading comprehension skills.

  • Demonstratives in Motion: The Grammaticalization of Demonstratives as a Window into Synchronic Phenomena

    Author:
    LISA FERRAZZANO
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Christina Tortora
    Abstract:

    There is significant variation in the literature on how demonstratives are characterized semantically, leading to divergent syntactic analyses of demonstratives. A major source of this disagreement regards how distance specifications relate to the demonstrative: whether [+/-speaker] is an integral property of the demonstrative or not. I argue that distance-marking divides the class of demonstratives into strong and weak, along the lines of what Cardinaletti and Starke (1999) propose for pronouns. Strong demonstratives possess a [+/-speaker] feature, while weak demonstratives have a neutral [speaker] feature, corresponding to a distance-neutral interpretation, and the pragmatic notion of immediate accessibility of the referent (Lyons 1999). The diachronic component of this work serves as a lens through which to view the demonstrative's synchronic behavior. I argue that the process of grammaticalization (Meillet 1912) allows us to `see' certain aspects of a demonstrative's meaning (and, I argue, corresponding internal syntactic structure) getting peeled away as the demonstrative evolves. Latin ille and spoken Finnish se provide evidence that demonstratives pass through a distance-neutral phase before being analyzed as definite articles, suggesting that strong and weak demonstratives should receive distinct analyses in the synchronic domain. I argue that strong and weak demonstratives can be viewed as synchronic imprints of a diachronic process. In addition to teasing apart different semantic types of demonstratives, this dissertation seeks to identify differences between demonstratives and definite articles. I propose that the demonstrative is specified for (i) [(+/-) speaker], (ii) [+contrastive] (encoding contrast), and (iii) [+identifiability], and that these features are encoded on functional heads in the extended projection of the demonstrative. The complex demonstrative is merged in a dedicated functional projection ([Spec, TrackerAdjP) within the DP. The definite article, in contrast, expresses only [+identifiability], and is merged directly in the DP projection. I argue that the common core of [+identifiability] helps explain the synchronic and diachronic dependency between the demonstrative and the DP projection, and sheds light on our discussion on the phenomenon of apparent `double definiteness.'

  • THE DP HYPOTHESIS THROUGH THE LENS OF JAPANESE NOMINAL COLLOCATION CONSTRUCTIONS

    Author:
    Kaori Furuya
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Marcel Dikken
    Abstract:

    In Japanese, bare noun phrases can refer to the object that is introduced in a previous context, whereas in English, the definite article is required for a common noun phrase to refer. The research question of this discussion is whether Japanese syntactically projects a determiner phrases (DP) although it does not have an article such as the in English. If Japanese does not project DP unlike English, the definiteness of referential arguments needs to be parameterized in syntax and in semantics. On the other hand, if Japanese projects DP, it suggests that DP is part of Universal Grammar (UG) and thus that no parameterization is called for. This thesis presents three pieces of evidence to support the DP hypothesis for Japanese by examining nominal collocation constructions such as watasitati 3-nin `we three' and watasitati sensei `we professors' In Chapter 2, the first argument stems from specificity effects. In Japanese numeral classifiers (NCs) cannot float away from personal pronouns. Likewise, NCs cannot get raised outside the associated bare noun phrases when the noun phrases possess definite interpretations. This implies that Japanese projects DP and that the DP blocks NCs from moving outside. In Chapter 3, examination of the internal structure of nominal collocation constructions is conducted. The grouping of personal pronouns and common noun phrases is ungrammatical when the common noun phrases have a plural marker and occur prenominally with the genitive marker. Moreover, NCs cannot also appear prenominally with the genitive marker when the host noun phrases involve personal pronouns unlike in the case of common noun phrases. Based on the argument of the nominal predication hypothesis due to the former property, the ungrammaticality of the second property is argued in terms of D feature on DP, in favor of the DP hypothesis. In Chapter 4, the left periphery of nominal collocation constructions is investigated. The fact that not all noun phrases allow for adjunction is explained in terms of the ban on adjunction to DP. If these arguments are correct, this suggests that DP is part of UG and that in Japanese the lack of a determiner is only due to morpho-phonological reasons.

  • The Acquisition of L2 Reading Comprehension: The Relative Contribution of Linguistic Knowledge and Existing Reading Ability

    Author:
    Leigh Garrison-Fletcher
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Gita Martohardjono
    Abstract:

    The study presented here examines the development of second language (L2) reading comprehension among adolescents who speak Spanish as their native language (L1) and are just beginning to learn English. The existing research on L2 reading comprehension among adolescents has focused on the transfer of reading skills from the L1 to the L2 and on the role of L2 linguistic knowledge. The research has suggested that reading skills transfer from the L1 to the L2, but that L2 linguistic knowledge plays the strongest role in L2 reading comprehension. However, previous research has not fully investigated the role of the L1 in the L2 reading development of adolescent learners. Crucially, students with low levels of L1 reading have not been included in the research, and such students must be studied in order to get a complete picture of the role of L1 reading in L2 reading. This study further expands on the previous research by including a group of participants not included in the research program on L2 reading comprehension among adolescent learners--namely, adolescent newcomer English language learners (ELLs) who arrive in the United States and enter the school system in middle or high school. Research on these students is lacking and little is known about their development of L2 academic skills. The main finding from the study is that L1 reading comprehension is the strongest contributor to L2 reading comprehension, as compared to the other predictor variables: L2 vocabulary, L2 syntax, and L1 vocabulary. This result is in opposition to previous research findings that L2 language skills play a more important role in L2 reading comprehension than L1 reading comprehension. It is clear that for newcomer adolescent ELLs in U.S. schools, their level of L1 reading is an important contributor to their development of L2 reading comprehension. Thus, educators should be aware of their students' L1 reading skills upon entry to school in order to provide them with the best instruction.

  • The Acquisition of an L2 Vowel System: A Longitudinal Investigation of Change

    Author:
    Fran Gulinello
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Charles Cairns
    Abstract:

    To what extent do the vowels systems of L2 learners change over time and what types of changes can be expected? The study reported here is a longitudinal investigation of change in the vowel systems of five adult native Spanish speakers learning English. It focuses on eleven vowels of English as uttered in CVC words and in various sentential contexts. Vowel productions from each speaker were measured for the acoustic parameters of F1, F2 and duration. These acoustic parameters were then analyzed via the classification matrices of discriminant analysis and compared over time. Change in the nonnative speakers was analyzed in two ways: independently of the target and in direct comparison to the target. Research in L2 acquisition has suggested that interlanguage is a system unto itself unlike the native language or the target language (Selinker, 1972). Thus, the nonnative speakers' vowels were first examined independently of the native speakers' vowels. This phase of the analysis showed which vowels were differentiated by a speaker on the three acoustic parameters, which were not, and whether there were changes over time in how vowels were differentiated. Research in cross-linguistic production has shown that learners may approximate target norms without necessarily achieving them (Flege, 1980). Therefore, in addition to considering the interlanguage of the nonnative speakers, change over time was also examined with respect to the target language. Nonnative speakers' vowels were compared directly to the two native speaker participants in the study. This second phase of the analysis showed whether changes approximated target norms. Findings indicate that the vowels of nonnative speakers change in ways that reflect dialectal and diachronic changes. Specifically, we see instances of split, merger and shift as described by Labov (1994). It is also the case, however, that changes occur that are unique to L2 acquisition. These changes are undoubtedly related to the learning of orthography and sound-spelling correspondences. This study provides evidence that intermediate phonological systems arising during L2 acquisition should be viewed not only in terms of the target but as unique systems of contrasts. It also provides evidence that changes are not necessarily unilateral; movement in one aspect of a system can affect other aspects of the system.