Syntactic Differences of Bilingual speakers: The case study of Japanese 
POSTER @  eurosla 2005 dubrovnik

Vivian Cook  
Obscure Writings 
 SLA Topics

Vivian Cook, Chise Kasai & Miho Sasaki
Universities of Newcastle upon Tyne, Gifu and Ibaraki
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Aim: to show that the first language of L2 users differs from that of monolinguals

Context: The multi-competence view of language sees the two languages in the mind as part of one overall system at some level. A new research paradigm is investigating how the first language of L2 users differs from that of monolinguals, being subject to change as well as attrition (Cook, 2003). Yet so far little research has looked at this issue with the well-known areas of syntax such as the pro-drop parameter.

Previous Research: Most previous research has shown changing L1s in L2 users for example: intonation (Mennen, 2004; Queen, 2001) ; writing system (Bassetti, 2004); literacy (Kecskes & Papp, 2000); syntactic processing; using a Competition Model, L2 users of Japanese, Spanish and Greek used cues for finding the L1 subject of the sentence differently from monolinguals (Cook et al, 2003) But not really for knowledge of L1 syntax.

Hypothesis: High bilingual’ Japanese L2 users of English will differ in their acceptance of Japanese sentences with and without subjects/objects from ‘low level’ Japanese L2 users of English

The Pro-drop Parameter: A parameter of variation in principles and parameters syntax, now taken to consist of the compulsory or optional use of pronoun subjects. Japanese is pro-drop; English is non-pro-drop. Many alternative analyses over the years. Some languages such as Chinese and Japanese are also object-drop.

Previous SLA Work: Vast pro-drop research from White (1986) onwards dealing with L2 resetting to L1. Only relevant current research on impact on L1 seems to be Sorace in recent publications (e.g. Tsimpli et al, 2004), which interprets pro‑drop in terms of the interfaces of the current Minimalist Program. Our current design is based on Yuan (1997), who added the issue of Object-drop, also found in Chinese, and is intended to be carried out with a variety of L1s in future.

Test Sentences in English Japanese versions below.

± Objects  in matrix clause          

A/B Catherine immediately recognised the students and Mary also recognised (them).

4 + 4

± Objects in embedded clause   

C/D Sandra said those students were in the library but Peter told her the teacher couldn’t find (them) there.

4 + 4

Distracters: agreement    

E/F: Peter start(s) his new course next week.

6 + 6

± Subjects  in matrix clause         

G/H: Peter once met John’s wife. (She) plays golf.

6 + 6

± Subjects  in embedded clause         

I/J: Peter has started his new job. His mother hopes that (he) will succeed.

6 +6

subjects: Japanese L2 users of English with 3 years in England (MAs/PhDs in UK )  (N=14) (Bil group) vs. Japanese university students of English (N=84) (Lo group).

Method: Grammaticality judgments graded on a 1 to 5 scale, with 4-6 examples of 5 sentence types, in grammatical and ungrammatical versions, plus 2 sets of 6 distractors (agreement), tested in the first language, Japanese.

Instructions: Would each sentence sound odd or natural if an educated speaker of Japanese said it in an everyday speech situation?

   Jane once met Sue's husband. Plays tennis.

     o                  o                   o                      o                    o       
very  odd           odd            not sure          natural          very natural




Sentence type




A* Objects in matrix clause           +



B                                                     -



C Objects in embedded clause     +



D                                                    -



E Distracters: agreement             +



F                                                     -



G* Subjects in matrix clause          +



H*                                                    -



I Subjects in embedded clause      +



J                                                      -



*= sig. at p. <0.05 test. Mann-Whitney, two-tailed


 1. Hi bilinguals find the presence of objects in matrix clauses in Japanese less natural than low level users (sentence A) (no diffs for –Object B)

  2. Hi bilinguals find the presence of subjects in matrix clauses more natural (sentence G)

3. Bilinguals find the absence of subjects in matrix clauses more natural (sentence H)

4. No differences for Subjects in embedded clauses (I/J) and for +/- objects in embedded clauses (sentence C & D))


·      in some ways the L1 of advanced L2 users has moved towards the L2 (sentence G subjects in matrix clauses)

·      in some ways the L1 of advanced L2 users has moved towards the L1 extremes more than monolinguals: more Japanese than the Japanese – as was found in Cook et al (2003) (sentences A & H)

·      the L2 user’s multi-competence is not just a straightforward movement from L2 to L1 and L1 to L2 but a system of its own

·      the L1 of L2 users changes in surprising, unpredicta ble ways rather than  uniformly and is not simply ‘losing’ things, as the attrition metaphor assumes

·      need to look at range of uses for a parameter in the syntax, not just a single form

·      is this an artefact of grammaticality judgments methodology?


Bassetti, B. (2004), Second language reading and second language awareness in English-speaking learners of Chinese as a Foreign Language. PhD thesis, University of Essex .

Cook, V.J. (ed.) (2002), Portraits of the L2 User, Clevedon, Multilingual Matters

Cook, V.J., Iarossi, E., Stellakis, N. & Tokumaru, Y. (2003), 'Effects of the second language on the syntactic processing of the first language' in V.J. Cook (ed.),193-213

Hirakawa, M. (1993), ‘Null subjects versus null-objects in an early grammar of Japanese’, McGill Papers in Linguistics, 9. 30-45

Kecskes, I. & Papp, T. (2000), Foreign Language and Mother Tongue. Hillsdale , NJ : Lawrence Erlbaum

Mennen, I. (2004), ‘Bi-directional interference in the intonation of Dutch speakers of Greek’, Journal of Phonetics, 32, 543-563

Queen, R.M. (2001), ‘Bilingual intonation patterns:  evidence of language change from Turkish-German bilingual children’, Language in Society, 30, 55-80

Tsimpli, T., Sorace, A., Heycock, C. & Filiaci, F. (2004), ‘First language attrition and syntactic subjects: a study of Greek and Italian near native speakers of English’, IJB, 3, 257-278

White, L. (1986), 'Implications of parametric variation for adult second language acquisition: an investigation of the pro-drop parameter', in Cook, V.J. (ed.) (1986), Experimental Approaches to Second Language Acquisition, Oxford , Pergamon

Yuan, B.P. (1997), ‘Asymmetry of null subjects and null objects in Chinese speakers’ L2 English’, Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 19, 467-497