Designing Second Language Teaching Experiments

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Second Language Research

Structural Minimality, CP and the initial state in second language acquisition
Rakesh M. Bhatt and Barbara Hancin-Bhatt
Second Language Research 2002 18: 348
DOI: 10.1191/0267658302sr210oa
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Downloaded from at University Library Utrecht on March 19, 2012

Second Language Research 18,4 (2002); pp. 348–392

Structural Minimality, CP and the
initial state in second language
Rakesh M. Bhatt and Barbara Hancin-Bhatt University
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

This article considers the current debate on the initial state of second language acquisition (L2) and presents critical empirical evidence from Hindi learners of English as an L2 that supports the claim that the CP (complementizer phase) is initially absent from the grammar of L2 learners. Contrary to the predictions of Full Transfer (Schwartz and Sprouse, 1994; 1996), the data we present suggest that L2 learners start out without a CP and then graduate to a stage where overt expressions of CP (complementizer phase) are in fact manifest. Although the lack of evidence of CP appears to support the Minimal Trees / Partial Transfer (MT/PT) hypothesis (Vainikka and Young-Scholten, 1996a; 1996b), we show that the MT/PT hypothesis also fails to honour all the empirical facts. To account for the patterns in our data, we propose Structural Minimality – that clausal projections are IPs – as a hypothesis on the initial state of L2 acquisition. We argue that the Structural Minimality hypothesis accounts for the entire array CP-acquisition facts in Hindi-speaking learners of English as an L2.

I Introduction
Recently, several generative studies of second language (L2) acquisition have focused attention on the investigation of the precise properties of interlanguage grammars, including the
availability of functional categories and the role of the first language (L1) grammar (Eubank, 1993/94; 1996; Lakshmanan and Selinker, 1994; Schwartz and Sprouse, 1994; 1996; Epstein et al., 1996; Grondin and White, 1996; White, 1996; Vainikka and YoungScholten, 1996a; 1996b; Prévost, 1997; Paradis et al., 1998). Although these L2 researchers are united in their claim that the principles of Universal Grammar (UG) guide (and constrain) L2 development, there is disagreement about the extent of the role of the L1 grammar (transfer) in L2 development, especially in the early stages (compare Eubank and Schwartz, 1996). Two proposals in particular represent contrasting perspectives on the role of the L1 in the Address for correspondence: Rakesh M. Bhatt, Department of Linguistics, University of Illinois, 4088 FLB, 707 S. Mathews Ave, Urbana, IL 61801, USA; email: © Arnold 2002

Downloaded from at University Library Utrecht on March 19, 2012

R akesh M. Bhatt and Barbara Hancin-Bhatt


construction of L2 syntactic structure. 1 One, the Minimal Trees (MT) hypothesis (Vainikka and Young-Scholten, 1994; 1996a;
1996b), claims that only lexical projections, such as verb phrase (VP), transfer from the L1 (Partial Transfer), whereas the functional projections – e.g., inflectional phrase (IP) and complementizer phrase (CP) – are acquired later in response to the L2 input as it interacts with the X’-theoretic principles of UG. The other, the Full Transfer / Full Access (FT/FA) hypothesis (Schwartz...
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