Pair-list readings in Korean-Japanese, Chinese-Japanese and English-Japanese interlanguage

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In English and Chinese, questions with a wh-object and a universally quantified subject (e.g. What did everyone buy?) allow an individual answer (Everyone bought apples.) and a pair-list answer (Sam bought apples, Jo bought bananas, Sally bought...). By contrast, the pair-list answer is reportedly unavailable in Japanese and Korean. This article documents an experimental investigation of the interpretation of such questions in non-native Japanese by learners whose first languages (L1s) are Korean, Chinese or English. The results show that, regardless of L1, only a minority of advanced second language (L2) Japanese learners demonstrate knowledge of the absence of pair-list readings in Japanese. In English-Japanese and Chinese-Japanese interlanguage, L1 transfer readily accounts for this finding: the L1 grammar, which allows pair-list readings, may obstruct acquisition of the more restrictive Japanese grammar. But in Korean-Japanese interlanguage, L1 transfer predicts rejection of pair-list answers. However, in a Korean version of the experimental task, a native Korean control group robustly accepts pair-list readings, contra expectations. A proposal to account for this finding is put forward, under which the Korean-Japanese interlanguage data become compatible with an L1-transfer-based model of L2 acquisition. Moreover, the native-like rejection of pair-list readings by some advanced learners of all three L1 backgrounds is argued to imply that UG constraints operate at the L2 syntax-semantics interface.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-226
Number of pages38
JournalSecond Language Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008


  • L2 Japanese
  • pair-list readings
  • wh-questions
  • quantifier interpretation
  • L2 poverty of the stimulus
  • syntax - semantics interface
  • Korean
  • Chinese
  • WH

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