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The clause-initial position in L2 Swedish declaratives: Word order variation and discourse pragmatics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2010

Ute Bohnacker
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Department of Linguistics and Philology, Uppsala University, Box 635, SE-751 26 Uppsala, Sweden. ute.bohnacker@lingfil.uu.se
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Abstract

In a recent study of the clause-initial position in verb-second declaratives (the prefield), Bohnacker & Rosén (2008) found significant differences between native Swedish and German concerning the frequencies with which constituents occurred in the prefield, as well as qualitative differences concerning the mapping of information structure and linear word order: Swedish exhibited a stronger tendency than German to place new information, the so-called rheme, later in the clause. Swedish-speaking learners of German transferred these patterns from their L1 to German. Their sentences were syntactically well-formed but had Swedish-style prefield frequencies and a strong pattern of Rheme Later, which native Germans perceive as unidiomatic, as an acceptability judgment and a rewrite-L2texts task showed. The present study extends Bohnacker & Rosén's work in three ways. Learners of the reverse language combination (L1 German, L2 Swedish) are investigated to see whether similar phenomena also manifest themselves there. Secondly, written and oral data from highly advanced learners are examined to see whether the learners’ persistent problems can be overcome by extensive immersion (3, 6 and 9 years of L2 exposure). Thirdly, besides investigating theme–rheme (old vs. new information), some consideration is given to another information-structural level, background vs. focus. The learners are found to overuse the prefield at first, with non-Swedish, German-style frequency patterns (e.g. low proportions of clause-initial expletives and high proportions of clause-initial rhematic elements). This is interpreted as evidence for L1 transfer of information-structural or discourse-pragmatic preferences. After 6 and 9 years, a substantial increase in clause-initial expletive subjects, clefts and lightweight given elements is indicative of development towards the target. The findings are related to current generative theorizing on the syntax-pragmatics interface, where it is often maintained that the integration of multiple types of information is one of the hardest areas for L2 learners to master.

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Copyright © Nordic Association of Linguistics 2010

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