Timed Grammaticality Judgements of the Head Parameter in L2 Learning
In G. Bartelt (ed.) The
Dynamics of Language Processes: Essays in Honour of Hans W. Dechert,
Gunter Narr 1994, 15-31
One of the main areas that Hans Dechert has illuminated is the importance of linguistic performance whether through his own writings, the conferences he organised, or the books he edited. The following paper makes some attempt to reconcile the Universal Grammar theory with performance criteria through the use of timed grammaticality judgements. Hence it will be regarded as heretical by those who refuse to take performance evidence into account; for others it may show how performance too can play its role in a UG oriented account of Second Language Acquisition, at least in the provision of other forms of data.
Universal Grammar and Second Language Acquisition Research
Universal Grammar (UG) theory, as put forward by Chomsky (e.g. Chomsky, 1986a; 1988), sees the speaker's knowledge of language as couched in terms of the principles and parameters theory (Chomsky, 1988; Cook, 1988a). The acquisition of the first language is a process of setting the values for parameters in response to 'triggering' evidence, rather than one of learning 'rules'. Acquiring the setting for a parameter such as the head parameter, which specifies the order of heads and complements in the phrase, requires comparatively minor evidence; as Chomsky (1987) puts it::
These facts can be determined from very simple sentences, for example the sentence "John ate an apple" (in English) or "John an apple ate" (in Japanese). To acquire a language, the child's mind must determine how the switches are set, and simple data must suffice to determine the switch settings, as in this case.
While recent years have seen a large growth in L2 learning research claiming to be based on the Chomskyan UG theory, surveyed in Cook (1993), there are nevertheless many methodological problems. Firstly, many of the areas of syntax tackled in L2 learning research are not, strictly speaking, part of the principles and parameters theory itself, for example the Principle of Branching Direction studied by Flynn (1984) or implicational universals such as the Acceptability Hierarchy looked at by Gass (1979) and Hawkins (1988). This is not to suggest that these areas of investigation do not have an important role in research into L2 learning of syntax in a broad sense nor that there is not ultimately a place for them within a principles and parameters framework. But their status in arguments about UG is different from aspects of syntax that are currently part of the principles and parameters theory and hence based on notions of learnability. To settle issues concerning UG means tackling areas of syntax that play a part in principles and parameters theory. There is a danger of thinking that any abstract syntactic point must have something to do with UG, when, in the strict Chomskyan sense, the only ones that are relevant are derived from a model with an appropriate goal.
Secondly, even the L2 research concerned with principles and parameters syntax as such has mostly dealt with the periphery of syntax where languages differ more and UG is less applicable rather than the core areas; there has been little or no investigation of such core concepts as the Projection Principle, the Theta Criterion, or Case Theory, with some honourable exceptions. Other research has looked at areas where the syntax itself is debatable, say German where L2 researchers assume German is SOV underlyingly, changing to SVO in certain main sentences (Meisel, 1986; Clahsen and Muysken, 1986; Jordens, 1988), while in LI acquisition Mills (1985) claims "Grammar books refer to a canonical word order of subject-verb-object from which they derive the other word orders." Thirdly, much of the research has relied on "rules" specific to one construction, for example the dative alternation (Mazurkewich, 1984) or preposition stranding (van Buren & Sharwood-Smith, 1985), rather than on the across-the-board principles and parameters that the theory requires. If one is to study movement within a principles and parameters framework, for example, it is necessary to take in not only Verb-movement affecting zero-bar categories, but also wh-movement and NP-movement which affect maximal projections (i.e. NPs and wh-phrases).
The Head Parameter
X-bar syntax all the phrases of human language conform to a simple structure
(Jackendoff, 1977; Chomsky, 1986a; Cook, 1988a). Each phrase contains
certain functionally determined items - a head, a specifier, and complements.
The maximal two-bar phrase (X") has a specifier and a one-bar
head of a particular type (X'); this in turn has a head that is a lexical or
functional category (X) and a complement.
the maximal Noun Phrase in English (N"), say "his fear of the
of a specifier "his", and
a head (N'), "fear of the dark"; this N' consists
of a lexical category (N), "fear", and a complement, "of the
with internal structure of its own.
The variation in word order between languages is captured by the head parameter; when the head comes before the complements, the setting for the parameter is said to be "head-first"; when it comes after the complements, it is said to be "head-last". English, with a head-first setting, has Verb Phrases with Verb heads before complements, "ate a tomato"; Adjective Phrases with Adjective heads before complements, "easy to play"; Prepositional Phrases with Preposition heads before complements, "with a spoon"; and Noun Phrases with Noun heads before complements, "fear of the dark". A language with a head-last setting such as Japanese has the Verb head after complements in the Verb Phrase, "Nihonji desu" (Japanese am); the Preposition head after its complement NP, "Nihon ni" (Japan in), i.e. a Postposition. All languages are claimed to be consistent in the relative position of head and complements in phrases in that their position can be stated once and for all in the constituent structure of each language. A subsidiary claim is that specifiers occur on the opposite side of the phrase to complements; this may indeed be part of the same parameter, or may be a separate parameter, as discussed in Fukui (1986); Rothstein (1985) similarly makes the position of subject a parameter with in her Rule of Predicate-Linking. Though not all languages are entirely consistent in setting, all 126 languages in the sample in Hawkins (1983) for which the appropriate information is listed have statistically significant consistency of setting for the complements in the Verb Phrase, Noun Phrase, and Prepositional Phrase (p.<0.001, chi square test).
Chomsky (1986b) the X-bar principles are extended to include the Complement
and Inflection Phrases. The Inflection Phrase (IP) brings together abstract
features of the sentence such as Tense and Agreement and
is seen as having two levels, I" and I'. The N" specifier of I"
is the subject of the
sentence; subject is thus defined as a specifier in terms of the configuration
of the phrase. The Extended Projection Principle makes the presence
of a subject compulsory, even if it may be covert. The Verb Phrase is a V"
acting as complement to I. Let us diagram this for "The drummer
missed a beat."
NP "the drummer" is the specifier of IP and hence the subject of the
sentence; the head I' consists in turn of a head I, which consists of the
abstract elements 'past' and 'singular' that become the Verb ending, "ed",
the complement V", "missed a beat". The IP thus conforms to the same
framework as the other types of phrase: a head with zero, single and double
bars (I, F, I"); a specifier, which is the subject; and a complement, which
is the Verb Phrase. The variable position of the subject before or after the VP
is an aspect of the head parameter governing the position of specifiers. In
English the specifier "very" comes before the Adjective, as in
"very nice;" the specifier "the" comes before the Noun,
"the man"; and the
specifier subject "he" comes before the VP, "he smokes."
consistently occur on the opposite side to complements. For more
extensive discussion of the head parameter see Cook (1988a), Stowell
(1981), and Huang (1982). Later developments such as Fukui (1986)
or Larson (1988) have modified the principles to some extent by separating
functional from lexical phrases and by treating the subject as occurring
within the VP and moving into specifier position in the IP; these do
not affect the head parameter itself so far as the complement/head and specifier/head
order are concerned (Fukui, 1986, p. 60).
head parameter at one level is a straightforward obvious point about
the phrases of a language; at another level it is simply a label for certain
consistencies with various explanations. It will be used here as a coverall
term in this way; particular aspects of it are susceptible to different
L1 acquisition broad claims have been
made that the child does not make word
order mistakes; for example Brown et al (1969, p.42) state that "the
children we have studied scrupulously preserve sentence word order not
only with respect to basic relations but also with respect to the order of
articles, adjectives, auxiliary verbs, adverbs, and all other words." The Bristol
transcripts from English children aged 15 months to 27 months confirm
virtually no mistakes of order with Verb and complement order, Preposition
and complement order, or Subject and VP order. In L2 learning; Meisel (1986)
found that L2 learners of German and French prefer an SVO
order from the start, unlike L1 learners. Consistent extrapolation strategies
of word order from one phrase type to another have been found in
children learning Micro Artificial Languages with different head parameter
settings, though not quite those predicted by the head parameter itself (Cook,
1988b). Other L2 learning research that appears to concern word
order is often either tackling some aspect of movement other than the
order of elements in the phrase structure covered by the head parameter
(Clahsen and Muysken, 1986; Jordens, 1988) or is concerned with an aspect of
typological universals rather than the principles and parameters approach (Lujan
et al, 1984).
main L2 learning questions that can be explored through the head I
parameter are the different types of access to UG (Cook, 1985; 1993). First
language acquisition starts from the zero state of knowledge (S0) and
a final steady state of knowledge (Ss); second language acquisition yields
a terminal state of knowledge (St), which may be derived either from
other mental faculties (a no-access model, i.e. non-availability of UG),
or from the UG S0 (a direct-access model), or from the LI Ss
model) (Cook, 1988b). A continuing theme in L2 learning research
has been whether UG is still available to L2 learners, a variant on the question
of whether L2 learning is like LI learning, discussed say from Ritchie (1978) to
Bley-Vroman et al (1988). In the no-access model L2 Ss is
related to other parts of the mind than the language faculty: however second
languages are learned, it does not involve UG. Phrased in the terms of our
research, this means seeing whether the head parameter is indeed
available to L2 learners as it is to LI learners; relevant evidence would
be consistency of response from L2 learners, comparatively error-free
development, and extrapolation from one phrase type to another.
that UG is still available, access to it might still be indirect or
direct. Much L2 learning research has supported the indirect-excess model
in that L2 learners have been shown to be influenced by the LI Ss settings
rather than to start from the S0 zero settings, e.g. subjacency (White,
1985) and the pro-drop parameter (White, 1986; Hilles, 1986). The indirect-access model would be supported if L2 learners with different
Lls made different mistakes in the
aspects of word order covered by the head parameter.
two experiments to be reported used the same basic design. This adds a
measurement of response time to the tradition of grammaticality judgments.
The assumption is that the time involved in coming to a judgement may
in itself reflect the difficulty of the task to the learner, regardless of whether
the answer is right or wrong. So in this design Subjects are asked to
say as quickly as they can whether a sentence is grammatical and the time
they take is measured. This technique of timed grammaticality judgements yields
two sets of scores: the judgements the Ss give and the response time
Order of Preposition and Complement
overall aim was to test whether L2 learners of English are consistent in the
setting for the head parameter in the Preposition Phrase and whether
learners with different Lls are similar or different through timed grammaticality
judgements for Preposition Complement versus Complement
Postposition orders. The direct and indirect access models predict consistency
of response; the indirect-access model predicts differences between
learners according to their LI setting. Experiment 1 compares timed
grammaticality judgements for groups of learners whose Lls differ in
having Prepositions or Postpositions, i.e. in having Prep NP or NP Post order
in the Prepositional Phrase. The 20 test sentences are given in Appendix A; 10
had Prepositions and so were correct English, 10 had Postpositions
and so were incorrect; in addition, there were, from the point of view of the present paper, 10 distractor sentences, 5 of which
had an adjacency violation, 5 of which
did not. The ten Preposition sentences were mirrored by ten Postposition
sentences using the same vocabulary pool. Seven out of each set of 10 had PPs within the VP structure of the
leaves on Monday. (Prep NP)
train arrives Tuesday on. (NP Post)
were PPs acting within the NP structure as in:
man with the suit is Jim. (Prep NP)
girl the hat with is Helen. (NP
practice sentences at the beginning were unconnected with the test sentences
Ss learning English were tested; of these 21 spoke Lls that had
Prepositions (Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic, Peulh, French, Italian, Czech, Polish), and 21 spoke Lls that had Postpositions (Chinese,
Turkish, Urdu, Maithali, Japanese,
Korean, Nepali, Sindhi); all were adults studying
English at different institutions in England and were of intermediate standard
in English, so problems of vocabulary were unlikely to affect the results.
experiments reported here used a BBC microcomputer fitted with the word
processing program WORDWISE and utilized a timing program EXMORE
developed at the University of Exeter Psychology Department for
carrying out psycholinguistic experiments (Mitchell & Barchan, 1984); this
accurately times presentation and responses, records which key is pressed, and
calculates the average timings for various conditions. Another
L2 use of EXMORE for comprehension is reported in Cook (1990). The
Subjects are asked whether a sentence is grammatical or not, and the time they
take to answer is measured. They are presented with a sentence in the centre of
the screen and with the request to "Press A if it is correct English,
B if it is not correct English, and C if you are not sure;" the letters B
and C were reassigned to the keys G and L to equalize the areas of the keyboard
they had to cover; these keys were labelled accordingly and the other
parts of the keyboard were obscured with a cloth. After the S had pressed the
appropriate key, the message "Press Spacebar to go on" appeared;
the program went on to the next sentence if the S had not answered after ten
seconds. The sentences were presented in a randomized order that was the same
for all Ss. The Ss were told that the experiment
was to compare how learners of English from different nationalities
treated various sentences; the computer would score their answers and
would also record how long they took so that they should be as quick as
possible. The experimenter took them through four practice sentences to
see that they understood the instructions.
for Experiment 1
timing results are given in Table 1; a null answer by the S counted as 10
seconds, as we saw above. Comparing the LI backgrounds, speakers of
Lls with Prepositions were 0.535 second faster at judging Preposition sentences
than at judging Postposition sentences (t test, one-tailed, repeated
measures design, df 20, t=3.01, p.<0.01); speakers of Lls with Postpositions
showed no significant difference for the two sentence types. Thus the LI had a
marked effect on the result. Overall the two groups averaged 4.042 for
Preposition sentences and 4.304 for Postposition sentences; while the
groups were the same on Preposition sentences, the LI Preposition speakers
were worse at Postpositions (t test, independent samples, one-tailed,
df 40, p.<0.0l).
1. Timing results for Experiment 1
results for accuracy of judgement are given in Table 2. All answers were scored
as wrong that were either wrong, or "not sure," or exceeded the
time limit of ten seconds. The proportion of wrong answers was 15.5% overall; a typing mistake in the data for the experiment meant one of the
Preposition sentences was incorrectly
labelled and so had to be discarded, resulting in 9 Preposition sentences compared with 10 Postposition sentences.
Overall no statistically significant differences emerged between judgements
across sentence types or groups (chi square tests), though there was a
slight advantage in correctness for the Ss with Postposition Lls in
judging the sentences with Postposition (just as they were comparatively
quicker at these). In other words, the differences in timing results are not
reflected in clear differences in ability to judge correctness. The indirect
access model is confirmed in so far as the timings of the grammaticality
judgements differ according to the L1 of the learner; learners with a
Preposition L1 are slower at evaluating whether Postposition sentences are
correct in English.
2. Accuracy Results for Experiment 1
2: The Position of Subject and Object
2 used the same methodology, design, and instructions as Experiment 1 with
different materials testing the order of Subject Verb and Object. The
indirect-access model vis-a-vis the direct access model again
predicts an influence from the LI; speakers with SVO Lls should treat
the four sentence types differently from those with SOV or VSO Lls. The
aspects of the head parameter tested here are the position of the Subject
as specifier of IP and the position of Object as the complement of VP.
The method was to compare timed grammaticality judgements for sentences
with four different word orders, namely SVO, SOV, VSO and VOS,
by groups with different word orders in the LI; SVO is then the only one of the
four that is normally grammatical in English. VOS, found in 3% of the world's languages (Tomlin, 1986), has the same setting for the VP as
English SVO (42%); SOV (45%) has the opposite setting to English; VSO (9%)
is thought to be produced by movement of V from final position as it
would otherwise violate the order principle (Randall, 1985), though this still
results in a breach of the principle of Verb-Object Bonding (Tomlin, 1986).
Sixteen of the 32 test sentences were distractors so far as the present experiment
is concerned and tested the dative alternation. Four sentences had
the normal SVO order for English, four SOV, four VSO, and four VOS:
likes bananas. (SVO)
Bill apples likes. (SOV)
Plays Sue tennis. (VSO)
Drinks coke Joan. (VOS)
subject of the sentence was always animate, the object always inanimate.
The test sentences are given in Appendix B.
38 Ss were drawn from the same institutions and population used in Experiment 1.
Sixteen spoke SVO languages (Greek, Spanish, French, Polish,
Serbo-Croat, Bulgarian, Indonesian, Amharic, Portuguese), 11 spoke VSO
languages (Arabic), and 11 SOV languages (Urdu, Farsi, Japanese, Turkish,
Bengali); no speakers of VOS languages were available.
timing results for Experiment 2 are given in Table 3. The average time
for all Ss for judging a sentence correct or incorrect with SVO was 3.934
seconds, with SOV 4.401 seconds, with VSO 3.971 seconds, and with VOS
3.629 seconds (all results; ANOVA, F=51, p<0.0l: SOV vs VOS; t test, df
37, p.<0.001). For all groups the VOS sentences were processed most quickly,
the SOV sentences most slowly; the SOV and VSO sentences were in
the middle. There appears then to be a common order across Lls in terms
of processing time.
3. Timing results for Experiment 2
results for accuracy of judgement are given in Table 4. As before, all answers
were scored as wrong that were either wrong, or "not sure," or exceeded
the time limit of ten seconds. The proportion of wrong answers was
34.8%, larger than for Experiment 1. The SVO and SOV speakers have a similar order of accuracy from least to most mistakes VOS>SVO/ VSO>SOV;
the VSO speakers not only have more mistakes overall but also a
different order of SVO>SOV>VOS/VSO. The most difficult type for VSO
speakers was sentences that had the same word order as their Lls, not
true for either SVO or SOV speakers. The differences between the VSO and
the SVO/SOV speakers were statistically significant (chi square test on
the actual scores, df 7, p. <0.001). In other words, the essentially common
order for processing time contrasts with the different orders for accuracy
in this experiment. Again an effect from the LI is seen on one of the
two measures and the Indirect Access model is supported.
4 Accuracy Results for Experiment 2
of Results and Conclusions
the LI setting for the head parameter plays a role in L2 learning. In
Experiment 1 learners with Postposition Lls took equal time on both Preposition
and Postposition sentences while learners with Preposition Lls
were quicker on Preposition sentences than on Postposition sentences; thus
the unfamiliar form of the Postposition sentences for the Preposition speakers
seemed to mean that they took longer to judge it. Not only are there
differences between the groups but these differences are related to the
LI setting for the head parameter. In Experiment 2 we also find differences
in accuracy for LI between SVO and SOV on the one hand and VSO
on the other. Looked at as a matter of subject position, the SVO and SOV
speakers (both with initial S) find all sentences equally easy; the VSO (with
S medial) find the VSO and VOS (with final S) more difficult. Looked
at from the point of view of Object position, the SVO and SOV speakers
should be diametrically opposed, which they are not, and VSO speakers (if
derived from SOV) should group with SOV, which they do not.
Perhaps again this illustrates the odd status of VSO languages; it is the
factor of movement which needs further research. Subject position appears more
crucial than Object position.
results from these two experiments provide further evidence against
the no-access model of L2 learning and in favour of the indirect-access
model in that learners are influenced by their LI setting sometimes in
terms of accuracy, sometimes in response time; for PP, IP, and VP there are clear LI differences. Again this reinforces an argument for testing multiple
consequences of the same parameter; while Postposition Lls had an
effect on Experiment 1, Experiment 2 did not show all three Lls behaving
in precisely the way the head parameter predicts. Like LI children, L2
learners have little overt problem with the setting, except inasmuch
as their LI makes them slower or sometimes leads to mistakes. One of the aims of
this research is achieved in that it has shown the relevance of
a central principles and parameters area of syntax to L2 learning - not simply
a construction-specific rule but a general parameter setting.
second aim of this paper was to extend the methodology of L2 learning
research. It is notoriously hard to decide what evidence counts as
appropriate in UG research, as discussed in Cook (1993). Some researchers
rely on observation of language produced by learners, say Hilles (1986)
and Jordens (1988) in the L2 or Radford (1990) and Hyams (1986) in the
LI; this runs into the problem of relating concrete E-language sentences
with abstract I-language knowledge, as discussed in Chomsky (1965), or of
confusing language development with language acquisition (Cook, 1988b),
or of arguing only from the "positive" evidence of actually occurring
forms, which may be an inadequate guide.
the majority of researchers in the UG paradigm utilize pen and
paper judgements of grammaticality, for instance Bley-Vroman et al (1988)
or Van Buren & Sharwood-Smith (1985). The relationship between such judgements and actual knowledge has always been debated (Kellerman,
1985); as a research technique grammaticality judgements have fallen
out of favour in psycholinguistics; none of the research surveyed in the
introduction by Garnham (1985), for example, to my knowledge involves
grammaticality judgements; one reason put forward by Elliot (1981) is
the link between grammatical judgements and level of literacy; Nagata (1988)
shows the variation in judgement that context or familiarity through repetition
can bring; Carroll et al (1981) show its susceptibility to self-awareness
factors in the Subjects. Chaudron (1983) reviewed the use of such
metalinguistic judgements in L2 learning research, concluding optimistically
that there is reasonably clear evidence that as learners develop towards
target language proficiency, their ability to match the experimenter's
"objective" norms improves.
addition of timing to the grammaticality judgement task has two consequences.
One is that it assumes that the relevant measures are not just
the judgement itself but how long it takes; extra processing time may indicate
difficulty, less processing time may indicate ease. In the present research
the LI setting did not so much inhibit as liberate in that Japanese speakers
were comparatively quicker at judging the ungrammaticality of Postposition
sentences. The second consequence is that control of the time factor
forces learners into more similar behaviour; with the usual untimed task,
some learners may reply immediately and instinctively but others may
take time and conscious effort, or indeed change their answers; comparison
may be difficult, if this factor is not controlled: the variation of
activity possible in judgement tasks is constrained by giving the learner a
limited amount of time in which to answer. The timed grammaticality judgement
technique used here not only provided an additional measure but
also forced the students into snap decisions that could not be reflected on
or indeed changed and that probably limited the effects of variable self-awareness discovered by Carroll et al (1981).
timing measure turned out to be crucial for experiment 1; a conventional
grammaticality judgement test would have shown no difference
between groups, as reflected in the accuracy scores; only when the response
time is taken into account are LI differences found. Experiment 2
partly showed the reverse; while the timings of judgements were constant
across groups, degree of accuracy varied for different Lls. Again this would
not have emerged without both measures being available; this time the
timing results show that the matter is not so straightforward as a
grammaticality judgement approach alone suggests. The experimental technique
turned out to provide a useful alternative source of evidence. Grammatical
sentences do not necessarily take less time than ungrammatical sentences to
process; certain types of ungrammaticality are quicker to detect
than grammaticality. The order of VOS>VSO>SVO>SOV from quickest
to slowest is the same as the order from most frequent to least frequent
in the world's languages so far as VOS and SOV are concerned, with VSO and SVO
being in between but in the opposite order (Tomlin, 1984);
that is to say, VOS, the most frequent language, is the quickest type of ungrammaticality to spot in English; SOV, the least frequent language of
the four, is the slowest to spot. This may be related to perceptual sequence
from left to right: to evaluate VOS and VSO as ungrammatical means simply
noticing the leftmost word; to say whether SVO and SOV are grammatical means scanning the sentence further. Alternatively it has
been sometimes proposed that a subject precedes the predicate regardless of the
head parameter (Travis, 1984; Tomlin, 1986).
type of experimental technique and measure afforded by computer
control has then much to offer to L2 learning research; it seems odd that the measurement of response time has rarely been utilized in L2 research with
syntax or comprehension, though used in other L2 areas. One of the problems
with UG-related research has been that the important parameters
are set quickly and so are not revealed on grammaticality judgements; hence
the concentration in the research literature on parameters that are set
relatively late. If, as the Chomskyan view suggests, the head parameter
is set from a small sample of sentences, it will be fixed in the first few hours
of L2 learning; differences between learners on conventional grammaticality
judgements may show simply that all speakers know it regardless
of LI, as we saw in Experiment 1. The timing results show however that
there is still a measurable effect for intermediate learners according to LI,
despite their evident knowledge of the right setting. Further experiments
in this paradigm have used timed comprehension (Cook, 1990) and timed
sentence comparison tasks.
issue that the technique raises in explicit form is the relationship between
language use, language learning, and language knowledge. The primary
evidence for UG theory is what the person knows about language; discussion in
principles and parameters theory normally ranges around a few test sentences
that demonstrate the grammatical and ungrammatical
features in question, called in Cook (1993) "single sentence evidence"
it does not reflect an experimental investigation of what several speakers
know. The reason why L2 learning has not relied on such data is presumably
that, while native speakers of a language share similar Sss and so
should not be too different from each other, few L2 learners reach a plateau
but achieve Sts that differ in many ways. Deciding if a sentence is
grammatical reflects a process of judgement, during which the knowledge of
language plays some part, as it does in normal speech production and comprehension.
In Cook (1991) a distinction is made between decoding a sentence,
in which the setting is assumed, and codebreaking a sentence, in
which a setting has to be inferred. In LI acquisition the child
codebreaks a handful of sentences to get the
appropriate setting, which can be used for decoding
from then on. In L2 learning the learner starts from the LI settings
and needs to codebreak sentences of the L2 to get a new decoding setting.
But what our experiments have shown is that the LI setting is still 'there'
in some sense when processing the L2, affecting the decisions or the response
time. The two languages are not in watertight compartments with
two versions of the head parameter set in different ways, as research with
code-switching confirms (Nishimura, 1986); a parameter doesn't switch
between the LI and L2 settings so much as veer, leaving some trace of
the alternative LI setting. This is then clear support for the wholistic multi-competence
view that the two languages in the mind of the L2 user from
a single super-system (Cook, 1992). The pro-drop setting is still available
to speakers of English as evidenced by null subject sentences in certain styles
and situations (e.g. "Can't buy me love"). It may be that the setting
for a parameter is more fluid than normally considered. Code-breaking may
always be possible; that is to say, confronted with a sentence that
violates the normal setting, native speakers still have access to the other
setting; this would mean that a sentence such as "John milk drinks" will
first be decoded as nonsense by the English speaker and then code-broken as SOV
using other settings potentially available to the speaker. Evidence
for this might be the ease with which English-speaking children acquired
SOV languages in the MALs experiment (Cook, 1988b), in which 80%
learned them to criterion from 30 sentences. The whole thrust of the UG
argument on L2 learning is that the parameter can still be set differently
in an L2; perhaps during normal LI processing something similar goes
on in that other settings are still available for codebreaking sentences that
are not susceptible to decoding.
strength of the UG position is that it does not restrict itself to a single kind
of evidence; "In principle, evidence ... could come from many different
sources apart from judgements concerning the form and meaning of expressions"
(Chomsky, 1986a, p.36). It seems dangerous that L2 learning research should rely
so heavily on a single source - grammaticality judgments
in questionnaire. Other research into the head parameter has used different
sources of evidence. Work with Micro-Artificial Languages in Cook
(1992) found a set of 4 extrapolation strategies with word order; one appeared
to be that the learners ignored the position of the Object in adopting a setting
for the PP. In the real language L2 experiments used here,
learners showed no signs of an overall preference for Postpositions; the
strategy may then be a product of the MAL situation encouraging the students
to look for 'anti-English', i.e. settings as different as possible to those in
their LI, or may reflect behaviour in the early stage of acquiring the
setting for a language rather than the more established stage the learners
had reached here. The computer simulation of PAL (Program that Acquires
Language) (Cook, unpublished) highlights inter alia the need to separate
decoding passes from codebreaking passes. The present paper confirms
that L2 learning too can be considered from the head parameter perspective
and raises further questions about the importance of parameter
setting in language performance that need further investigation.
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for Experiment 1: Prepositions vs
leaves on Monday.
bar is open in the evening.
travelled by car.
a train at five.
book is about Poland.
6.She went to London.
7.1 live near the hospital.
man with the suit is Jim.
capital of Spain is Madrid.
is the teacher from England.
train arrives Tuesday on.
office is closed the morning in.
went bus by.
a plane at eight.
film is Sweden about.
went Berlin to.
school is the station near.
girl the hat with is Helen.
capital France of is Paris.
is the student France from.
for Experiment 2:
8.Jane coffee drinks
Speaks Joan Swedish.