Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • EFFECTS OF FIRST LANGUAGE VOICING RULES ON THE PERCEPTION AND PRODUCTION OF ENGLISH OBSTRUENT SEQUENCES BY ADULT HUNGARIAN AND POLISH LEARNERS OF ENGLISH

    Author:
    Marisa Monteleone
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Winifred Strange
    Abstract:

    The present study explored difficulties in the acquisition of a second language (L2) phonology, looking specifically at the role of native (L1) voicing rules on L2 perception and production. Hungarian and Polish late learners of English performed production and perception tasks with English voicing contrasts in contexts where Hungarian and Polish voicing rules might interfere. American English speakers also participated, for comparison. Each participant produced sentences containing fictional names with obstruent sequences crossing a word boundary (e.g. I met Gus Barker today). The non-native participants did show evidence of transfer of their native regressive voicing assimilation rules to their productions of English word-final obstruents, although regressive devoicing was observed more often than regressive voicing. Each participant also performed identification tasks with similar sentences (e.g. I met Jess Geller today): a four-choice task containing the entire obstruent sequence, and a two-choice task containing sentences in which either the first or last name had been replaced with silence (e.g. I met Jess [silence] today or I met [silence] Geller today). For word-final obstruents, the non-native listeners were significantly less accurate in the two-choice task than the American English controls, but not significantly different from each other. In the four-choice task, both groups became even less accurate, with the Polish listeners showing a more severe effect than the Hungarian listeners. Overall, there was a slight significant correlation of word-final perception and production scores. For word-initial stops, perception was highly accurate for all groups, with the exception of voiced stops in a voiceless-voiced context. Perception of word-initial /s/ was unexpectedly poor for all three language groups. The pattern of results observed in this study suggests that both L1 phonetic and phonological interference affects perception and production in an L2. Implications for current theoretical models of second language phonology are discussed.

  • The processing of complex syntax and its relation to non-native reading comprehension

    Author:
    Gabriella Morvay
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Elaine Klein
    Abstract:

    Via a variety of measurements, 64 Hungarian speaking 12th graders learning English as a second language were tested in a cross-sectional correlational study in order to determine the relationship between the ability to process complex syntax and L2 reading comprehension across two levels of language proficiency. While vocabulary knowledge is considered to be the most important determinant of effective non-native reading comprehension, results of this study showed syntactic comprehension to be a statistically significant estimator for L2 reading comprehension

  • An Antisymmetry Account of the Syntactic Positions of Nominal Arguments in Turkish: Implications for Clausal Architecture

    Author:
    Miho Nagai
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Marcel den Dikken
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines the syntactic positions of nominal arguments in Turkish, looking at Turkish clausal structure based on Aktionsart (aspectual) properties (e.g. Vendler 1967) of (dynamic) predicates from the perspective of Antisymmetry (Kayne 1994). It has been argued that indefinite/non-specific arguments appear syntactically in lower positions than definite/specific arguments in some languages. While definite/specific arguments can be scrambled away from their base positions, indefinite/non-specific ones stay in situ (e.g. de Hoop 1992; Diesing 1992; Kornfilt 1984). Even though previous studies have shown that in Turkish specific arguments appear syntactically higher than non-specific arguments (e.g. Kennelly 1994; Zidani-EroĆ°lu 1997; Kelepir 2001), the question of where exactly they appear within a particular syntactic domain has not been clearly addressed. Based on the syntactic position and the behavior of Turkish nominals and (low) adverbs, I argue that a bare internal argument does not occur in the complement position of a verb; rather, it occurs in the specifier position of VP (cf. Larson 1988). The current proposal has important implications for Turkish clausal architecture: (i) Aktionsart (aspectual) properties of predicates play a crucial role in determining their syntactic structures, (ii) there is an aspectual projection (AspP) in accomplishments/activities, but not in achievements; this study thus provides evidence that the Vendlerian/Dowtian distinction between accomplishments and achievements is syntactically real ,and (iii) clause structure obeys (a weak version of) Antisymmetry. This study also provides implications for the relation between syntax and information structure. I show that the syntax-prosody boundary is associated with the semantic boundary between the presuppositional and the non-presuppositional interpretations, which is (at) the edge of vP. Crucially, the edge of vP serves as the boundary for both prosody and presuppositionality (at least in Turkish). This syntactic boundary/domain interacts with the information structure where topic/focus elements in discourse contexts are placed in particular syntactic position/domains. Languages use different linguistic cues/strategies in the realization of topic/focus. Such linguistic signals are typically the same as the signals for marking grammatical functions (e.g. case morphology, agreement, word order, and so on). In the case of Turkish, definite/specific DPs (and topics) occur above TP (SpecTP/SpecTopP) and indefinite/non-specifics (foci) occur within vP (SpecvP and SpecVP) (or a immediately pre-verbal position). Those particular syntactic specifier positions are clearly associated with the role of topic-comment/information structure, not just grammatical functions. It has been shown from Turkish data that syntactic positions of nominals (scrambling/word order) and prosodic prominence interplay in order to signal and maintain the topic-comment/information structure, which can also be observed across languages (such as German and Russian). Both word order and prosody are necessary to realize the information structure in Turkish; thus, neither syntax nor prosody should be reduced.

  • Acquisition of English verb transitivity by native speakers of Japanese

    Author:
    Tomonori Nagano
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Martin Chodorow
    Abstract:

    This study is concerned with the acquisition of English verb transitivity by native speakers of Japanese. Both a verb's semantic class (Levin, 1993; Pinker, 1989) and its frequency (Ambridge et al., 2008) have been proposed to influence the acquisition of verbs in L1. For example, verbs whose meaning entails change-of-location or change-of-state (e.g., move, roll, bounce, melt) typically participate in the causative alternation in English. In addition, among those verbs, it is predicted that high-frequency verbs such as break and move are acquired earlier than low-frequency ones such as shatter and slide. In SLA, a learnability problem is expected when the usage in L1 constitutes a superset of the usage in L2 (Inagaki, 2001; Montrul, 2001). Such asymmetric relationships exist between English and Japanese when there are idiosyncratic exceptions in a verb semantic class in one language but not the other. For example, inherently-directed motion verbs (e.g., descend, oriru/orosu "descendINTRANSITIVE/TRANSITIVE") and verbs of disappearance (e.g., disappear, kieru/kesu "disappearINTRANSITIVE/TRANSITIVE") are prohibited in the causative alternation in English, but not in Japanese. Thus, a learnability problem in the causative alternation is expected for Japanese ESL leaners. Twenty-six native English speakers and 35 Japanese ESL learners participated in this computer-based experiment. The data, analyzed with mixed-design ANOVA and mixed-effect linear models, show main and interaction effects of the verb's semantic class and the verb's (log) frequency. Post-hoc analyses indicate that the effect of the verb's semantic class was primarily due to the idiosyncratic exceptional semantic classes, as predicted by the asymmetric relationship in SLA. A strong effect of frequency was found for the acquisition of the idiosyncratic exceptional semantic classes, indicating that frequency plays a critical role in acquiring (unlearning) grammatical constructions that exist in L1 but not in L2.

  • Processing Chinese Empty Categories

    Author:
    Shukhan Ng
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Janet Dean Fodor
    Abstract:

    This study investigates empty category (or `gap') interpretation by native Mandarin Chinese speakers. Two research methods (sentence completion and self-paced reading) and four experiments were employed to examine the strategy adopted to assign a reference (or a `filler') to an identified empty category in real-time sentence comprehension. The sentences tested included main clause, clausal subject, clausal object, and relative clause constructions, all of which contained an empty category in subject position (pro, PRO or trace, according to the construction). There are three pertinent research questions: I) When a gap is identified before its filler is, does the parser adopt the first candidate filler, or does it wait to see whether a better filler may subsequently appear? II) How does empty category interpretation interact with structural ambiguity resolution? III) Is local interpretation of a gap (as generic in reference) preferred over association with a filler elsewhere in the sentence? Re Question I: The data indicate that the parser adopts the first available filler. This candidate filler may be in the already parsed segment of the sentence, or the first plausible filler encountered in subsequent words. Re Question II: The results show that the parser, when facing a combined structural and empty category ambiguity, is willing to sacrifice a preferred structural analysis in order to obtain an optimal reference for an empty category. Re Question III: For the empty subject within a clausal subject, the parser can either locally assign a generic interpretation or else search for an overt filler in the sentence. The data show that the parser prefers the latter strategy, and takes a generic interpretation as the last resort if no filler is found. These findings can be integrated into a comprehensive parsing strategy (an `Active Gap Strategy') for on-line empty category interpretation in Chinese. This strategy is proposed as a universal strategy, alongside Minimal Attachment and others.

  • Omitted Arguments and Complexity of Predication

    Author:
    Martin Port
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    William McClure
    Abstract:

    Abstract OMITTED ARGUMENTS AND COMPLEXITY OF PREDICATION by Martin Port Adviser: Professor William McClure This work focuses on the licensing conditions and logical structure of understood-argument constructions, or complement-drop constructions, in English. There are two main types of such arguments: Indefinite Understood Arguments (IUA) and Definite Understood Arguments (DUA). IUA readings occur in such cases in He ate, He cooked. In such cases, the reference of the dropped element need not be known for the sentence to be satisfactorily interpretable. DUA readings are given in such examples as She followed, She won. Here the reference of the missing element must be known to the speaker/hearer; it must appear in discourse. Our central claim is that it is not necessary to resort to explanatory factors outside the lexical-semantic structure of verbs in order to account for the alternations. We propose that for both IUA and DUA, the structure of the understood argument is a complex structure involving existential quantification: "x [P(x)]". It is never a simplex, atomic element that could be represented by an individual constant. For IUA cases, we justify this complex structure by showing that it is mirrored in the structure of the alternating verbs. We note in particular that IUA verbs often undergo other alternations such as the material/product alternation, which we consider to be an indication of a complex lexical structure. For Definite Understood Arguments, we give two licensing factors that correspond to the variable and the predicate in the logical form. We motivate existential quantification in DUA constructions, by considering such contrasts as I know/I know about that vs. I believe/*I believe about that. Selecting for a PP-complement correlates with the possibility of DUA. We claim that in this example, the about-phrase provides a slot for a variable, since the phrase makes allusion to some object without stating explicitly what it is. We conclude by analyzing subject-drop alternations--the causative-inchoative alternation--in the light of our findings regarding complement drop. We note that this alternation occurs with verbs of a simplex structure; and we offer a description of the general system of argument drop in English.

  • Asking Questions in Learner English: First and Second Language Acquisition of Main and Embedded Interrogative Structures

    Author:
    Lucia Pozzan
    Year of Dissertation:
    2011
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Virginia Valian
    Abstract:

    This dissertation examines how adults and children learning English produce and judge English questions. The ultimate goal of this study is to contribute to an understanding of the extent, nature and causes of learners' persistent difficulties with some syntactic properties of the language they are acquiring. To examine whether word order errors in the production of English interrogatives by L2 learners stem from lack of knowledge or from difficulties with automatic implementation of L2 procedures under real time constraints, L2 learners' performance in tasks that tap into different abilities is compared. To examine whether errors in the production of English interrogatives by L2 learners can be imputed to L1 transfer, L1 Chinese and L1 Spanish production patterns are compared. Finally, to examine whether errors in the production of L1 learners can be attributed to properties of the adult input, the results from an elicited production study with 3-5 year olds are examined in light of the frequency of different word combinations in the adult input. Taken together, the present results indicate that difficulties with English interrogative structures (a) are a consistent phenomenon in L1 and L2 learners, (b) might be better accounted for in terms of non-target-like representations, rather than difficulties with implementation of L2 procedures, and (c) do not follow in a direct way from L1 transfer or properties of the input. Learners' errors depend on specific syntactic configurations (wh- vs. yes/no) and wh-words (why, when), suggesting that child and adult learners entertain similar grammatical hypotheses and make use of similar mechanisms for language acquisition.

  • Effects of L1 Spanish and L2 English sublexical and lexical processing on L2 English word reading speed and accuracy, and reading comprehension

    Author:
    Deirdre Quinn
    Year of Dissertation:
    2012
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Eva Fernandez
    Abstract:

    This study explores the word identification processes used by adult bilingual Spanish/English readers of varying proficiencies in both L1 and L2, and how these relate to reading comprehension levels in L1 and L2. It has been proposed in word reading research that lexical processing (accessing the word directly from the lexicon) is more efficient than sublexical processing (assembling the phonology of a word letter by letter). This investigation is concerned with the type of bilingual processing used by readers of varying ability. Three groups of Spanish/English bilingual readers, who differed across both L1 and L2 in their reading comprehension levels, performed a reading and listening task in both Spanish (Experiment 1) and English (Experiment 2). A third monolingual control group performed the task in their L1, English (Experiment 3). The on-line procedure involved presenting words visually and aurally, for participants to make a yes/no choice as to whether the words match. This bimodal task, not previously used in second language research, presented equal difficulty for readers of all proficiency types. The written words appeared in either uniform (lower) case or alternating (aLtErNaTiNg) case, to test reliance on lexical processing during word identification. Overall, L1 Spanish readers of all proficiency levels used similar strategies for L1 word identification, but the less proficient readers showed this effect when orthographic form was disrupted, i.e., when the stimuli were presented in alternating case. In L2, the less proficient readers tended to rely more on a sublexical strategy, while the high proficiency group used a lexical strategy. Crosslinguistic correlations indicated that readers who showed more disruption (as evidenced by higher reaction times) to alternating case stimuli in L1 Spanish had lower proficiency levels in English, indicating that L1 reading skill influences L2 reading proficiency. These findings combined support dual route models of reading, and have important implications for educational decisions: both sublexical and lexical skills are emergent in L1 and L2, and should be focused on in instructional settings.

  • A CORPUS-BASED SOCIOLINGUISTIC STUDY OF SUBJECT PRONOUN PLACEMENT IN SPANISH IN NEW YORK

    Author:
    ROCIO RANA-RISSO
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    RICARDO OTHEGUY
    Abstract:

    This dissertation presents a variationist sociolinguistic study of the variable placement of subject personal pronouns before or after verbs in Spanish in New York City (e.g. ella canta; canta ella, both `she sings'). It pursues a line of inquiry that partially replicates recent work by Otheguy & Zentella (2012). The research addresses, on the basis of a different morphosyntactic phenomenon, the same question of whether bilingualism in NYC is giving rise to language contact phenomena under which patterns of English usage are affecting the use of Spanish. In addition, this project expands the original database extracted from the Otheguy - Zentella corpus to include not only finite verbs but also non-finites, and it expands as well the tools of the analysis by introducing additional linguistic predictor variables. This project will demonstrate that, with respect to the feature under study, there are indeed two distinct groups of newcomers entering the City, those from the Caribbean and those from the Latin American Mainland. It will also show that while continuity with Latin American ways of speaking remains the strongest force shaping Spanish in NYC, changes in the internal grammar of the speakers begin with slight force in the first generation and continue in the second. On the basis of extensive internal evidence, this project advances our knowledge of variables conditioning the placement of subject pronouns. It is shown that the influencing variables for Mainlanders coincide for the most part with those for Caribbeans; that the speech of Caribbeans is not as rigidly set on an SVO word order as it has been claimed in the literature; and that the speech of Mainlanders is more set on an SVO order as well, rather than on the required VSO word order claimed by several authors in the literature. Lastly, the study demonstrates that the linguistic variables constraining pronoun placement in the speech of newcomers begin to change in significance and hierarchy in the first generation with more exposure to the City, and become insignificant for the second generation of speakers.

  • Echolocation: Using Word-Burst Analysis to Rescore Keyword Search Candidates in Low-Resource Languages

    Author:
    Justin Richards
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Andrew Rosenberg
    Abstract:

    State of the art technologies for speech recognition are very accurate for heavily studied languages like English. They perform poorly, though, for languages wherein the recorded archives of speech data available to researchers are relatively scant. In the context of these low-resource languages, the task of keyword search within recorded speech is formidable. We demonstrate a method that generates more accurate keyword search results on low-resource languages by studying a pattern not exploited by the speech recognizer. The word-burst, or burstiness, pattern is the tendency for word utterances to appear together in bursts as conversational topics fluctuate. We give evidence that the burstiness phenomenon exhibits itself across varied languages. Using burstiness features to train a machine-learning algorithm, we are able to assess the likelihood that a hypothesized keyword location is correct and adjust its confidence score accordingly, yielding improvements in the efficacy of keyword search in low-resource languages.