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The acquisition of functional categories in early French second language grammars: The use of finite and non-finite verbs in negative contexts

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Publication details

JournalSecond Language Research
DatePublished - 2006
Issue number2
Number of pages30
Pages (from-to)188-218
Original languageEnglish


This cross-sectional study of first language (L1) English adolescents learning French as a second language (L2) uses their development of negatives in relation to finite and non-finite verbs to investigate the status and nature of functional categories in these learners’ emerging grammars. Analysing oral data from elicited production tasks from instructed learners, it provides evidence for a lack of functional categories in the Initial State and the earliest L2 grammars (Vainikka and Young-Scholten, 1996; Hawkins, 2001). However, the results from the study also indicate that the functional category I (or T) then emerges reasonably rapidly. The pattern of development of negation and finite and non-finite verbs in these learners’ grammars also suggests that feature values are in place for the functional categories once they are projected, as learners consistently raise the verb. The learners do use root infinitives but the properties of these root infinitives differ to those found in L1 acquisition (Pierce, 1992; Wexler, 1994; 1998), thus supporting Wexler’s maturational account of Optional Infinitives in L1 acquisition. Additionally, the rare occurrence of raised non-finite verbs would indicate that there is a problem with the realization of surface morphology in accordance with the Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis of Prévost and White (2000a) rather than an impairment in the grammar (Meisel, 1997; Hawkins, 2000).

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