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The resolution of conflicts among competing systems: A bidirectional perspective

  • Susan M. Gass (a1)


The present study investigates the interaction of syntax, semantics, and pragmatics from the perspective of functional constraints on sentence processing. The functionalist model of Bates and Mac-Whinney (1981a, 1987) is taken as a basis for investigating subjects' reactions to sentences in which word order, topic, and animacy are varied. Subjects were native speakers of Italian, a language which is sensitive to semantics for interpretation and English, a language which is sensitive to syntax for interpretation (Bates, McNew, MacWhinney, Devescovi, & Smith, 1982). The two native speaker groups were further subdivided in terms of second versus foreign language learners. This study focusses on the question of how learners move from one organizational system to another. It is argued that the ways in which L2 learners are able to determine the strength of dominant factors provides insights not only into the processes involved in L2 acquisition but also into the relative strength of components crosslinguistically and the strength of boundaries between linguistic and extra-linguistic information. The results suggest that in moving from a semantic-dominant language to a syntactic-dominant one, learners first become aware of the importance of the concept of word order in a second language before being able to determine the specifics of word order in that language. On the other hand, moving in the other direction (from syntactic to semantic dominance) seems to come about with greater ease. To account for these results, a prototype model of acquisition is introduced. Finally, differences between second language and foreign language-learning environments are discussed.


Corresponding author

Susan M. Gass, Department of English, Morrill Hall, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, U.S.A.


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The resolution of conflicts among competing systems: A bidirectional perspective

  • Susan M. Gass (a1)


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