Hostname: page-component-7479d7b7d-c9gpj Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-11T08:41:23.692Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false


Interfaces and Variability

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 August 2014

Claudia Borgonovo
Université Laval
Joyce Bruhn de Garavito*
The University of Western Ontario
Philippe Prévost
Université François Rabelais, Tours
*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Joyce Bruhn de Garavito, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, The University of Western Ontario, Faculty of Arts, University College, London, Ontario, Canada N6A 3K7. E-mail:


There is presently a lively debate in second language (L2) acquisition research as to whether (adult) learners can acquire linguistic phenomena located at the interface between syntax and other modules, such as semantics, pragmatics, and lexical semantics, in contrast to phenomena that are purely syntactic in nature. For some researchers, the interface is precisely the place where fossilization occurs and the source of nonconvergence in L2 speakers. In this article we focus on the acquisition of the morphosyntax-semantics interface by examining the acquisition of mood in Spanish relative clauses by native speakers (NSs) of English. In particular, we focus on the contrast illustrated by Busco unas tijeras que corten “I am looking for scissors that cut-subj” versus Busco unas tijeras que cortan “I am looking for scissors that cut-ind.” When the indicative is used, there is a specific pair of scissors that the speaker is looking for. With the subjunctive, any pair of scissors will do, as long as it satisfies the condition expressed by the relative clause; the determiner phrase is nonspecific. In other words, we are dealing not with ungrammaticality, as both moods are possible in these contexts, but rather with differences in interpretation. General results showed that the learners could appropriately select the expected mood. We also saw that performance was not uniform across the various conditions tested. However, variability is not solely a product of L2 acquisition; we show it can be found in NSs as well.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Ahearn, A., & Leonetti, M. (2002). The Spanish subjunctive: Procedural semantics and pragmatics inference. In Márquez Reiter, R. & Placencia, M. H. (Eds.), Current trends in the pragmatics of Spanish (pp. 3557). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Benjamins.Google Scholar
Arregui, A. (2005). On the accessibility of possible worlds: The role of tense and aspect (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Massachusetts, Amherst.Google Scholar
Belletti, A., Bennati, E., & Sorace, A. (2007). Theoretical and developmental issues in the syntax of subjects: Evidence from near-native Italian. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 25, 657689.Google Scholar
Berk, L. (1999). English syntax: From word to discourse. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Blanco, J. A., & Donley, P. R. (2005). Vistas: Introducción a la lengua española. Boston, MA: Vista Higher Learning.Google Scholar
Borgonovo, C., Bruhn de Garavito, J., & Prévost, P. (2012, October). Mood choice in relative clauses: The Interface Hypothesis and native speakers. Paper presented at the Hispanic Linguistics Symposium, University of Florida, Gainesville.Google Scholar
Borgonovo, C., & Cummins, S. (2007). Tense, aspect and modality. In Eguren, L. & Fernández Soriano, O. (Eds.), Coreference, modality, and focus (pp. 118). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Benjamins.Google Scholar
Borgonovo, C., & Prévost, P. (2003). Knowledge of polarity subjunctive in L2 Spanish. In Beachley, B., Brown, A., & Conlin, F. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 27th BUCLD (pp. 150161). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.Google Scholar
Brugger, G., & D’Angelo, M. (1995). Movement at LF triggered by mood and tense. Folia Linguistica, XXIX, 195221.Google Scholar
Choi, M.-H., & Lardiere, D. (2006). The interpretation of wh-in-situ in Korean second language acquisition. In Belletti, A., Bennati, E., Chesi, C., Di Domenico, E., & Ferrari, I. (Eds.), Language acquisition and development: Proceedings of GALA 2005 (pp. 123135). Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.Google Scholar
Chomsky, N. (2001). Derivation by phase. In Kenstowicz, M. (Ed.), Ken Hale: A life in language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Collentine, J. G. (1995). The development of complex syntax and mood selection abilities by intermediate-level learners of Spanish. Hispania, 78, 122135.Google Scholar
Collentine, J. G. (2003). The development of subjunctive and complex-syntactic abilities among FL Spanish learners. In Lafford, B. & Salaberry, R. (Eds.), Studies in Spanish second language acquisition: The state of the science (pp. 7497). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar
Cuza, A., Guijarro-Fuentes, P., Pires, A., & Rothman, J. (2013). The syntax-semantics of bare and definite plural subjects in the L2 Spanish of English natives. International Journal of Bilingualism, 17, 634652.Google Scholar
Dekydtspotter, L., Sprouse, R., & Swanson, K. (2001). Reflexes of mental architecture in second language acquisition: The interpretation of combien extractions in English-French interlanguage. Language Acquisition, 9, 175228.Google Scholar
Dekydtspotter, L., Sprouse, R., & Thyre, R. (1999/2000). The interpretation of quantification at a distance in English-French interlanguage: Domain specificity and second language acquisition. Language Acquisition, 8, 265320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Enç, M. (1991). The semantics of specificity. Linguistic Inquiry, 22, 126.Google Scholar
Farkas, D. (1982). Intensionality and Romance subjunctive relatives. Bloomington: Indiana University Linguistics Club.Google Scholar
Farkas, D. (2000). Scope matters. In von Heusinger, K. & Egli, U. (Eds.), Reference and anaphoric relations (pp. 79108). Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Kluwer.Google Scholar
Farkas, D. (2001). Dependent indefinites and direct scope. In Condoravdi, C. & Renardel, G. (Eds.), Logical perspectives on language and information (pp. 4172). Stanford, CA: Center for the Study of Language and Information.Google Scholar
Farkas, D. (2002). Specificity distinctions. Journal of Semantics, 19, 131.Google Scholar
Geurts, B. (2001). Specific indefinites, presupposition and scope. In Bäuerle, R., Reyle, U., & Zimmermann, T. E. (Eds.), Presuppositions and discourse (pp. 125158). Oxford, UK: Elsevier.Google Scholar
Giannakidou, A. (2011). (Non)veridicality and mood choice: Subjunctive, polarity, and time. In Musan, R. & Rathert, M. (Eds.), Tense across languages (pp. 5990). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
Goad, H., White, L., & Steele, J. (2003). Missing inflection in L2 acquisition: Defective syntax or L1-constrained prosodic representations? Canadian Journal of Linguistics, 48, 243263.Google Scholar
Hacohen, A., & Schaeffer, J. (2007). Subject realization in early Hebrew/English bilingual acquisition: The role of crosslinguistic influence. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 10, 333344.Google Scholar
Haznedar, B., & Schwartz, B. (1997). Are there optional infinitives in child L2 acquisition? In Hughes, E., Hughes, M., & Greenhill, A. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 21st Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development (pp. 257268). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.Google Scholar
Horn, L. (1995). A natural history of negation. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Ionin, T., Ko, H., & Wexler, K. (2004). Article semantics in L2-acquisition: The role of specificity. Language Acquisition, 12, 369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ionin, T., Montrul, S., & Crivos, M. (2013). A bidirectional study on the acquisition of plural NP interpretation in English and Spanish. Applied Psycholinguistics, 34, 483518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ionin, T., & Wexler, K. (2002). Why is “is” easier than “-s”? Acquisition of tense/agreement morphology by child second language learners of English. Second Language Research, 18, 95136.Google Scholar
Ionin, T., Zubizarreta, M. L., & Philipov, V. (2009). Acquisition of article semantics by child and adult L2 English learners. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 12, 337361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Iverson, M., Kempchinsky, P., & Rothman, J. (2008). Interface vulnerability and knowledge of the subjunctive/indicative distinction with negated epistemic predicates. In Roberts, L., Myles, F., & David, A. (Eds.), EUROSLA Yearbook, 8, 135163.Google Scholar
Jespersen, O. (1965). A modern English grammar on historical principles. London, UK: Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
Lardiere, D. (1998). Dissociating syntax from morphology in a divergent L2 end-state grammar. Second Language Research, 14, 359375.Google Scholar
Lardiere, D. (2000). Mapping syntactic features to forms in second language acquisition. In Archibald, J. (Ed.), Second language acquisition and linguistic theory (pp. 102129). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Lardiere, D. (2007). Ultimate attainment in second language acquisition. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Leonetti Jungl, M. (1999). El artículo [The article]. In Bosque, I. & Demonte, V. (Eds.), Gramática descriptiva de la lengua española (pp. 787891). Madrid, Spain: Espasa.Google Scholar
Leonetti Jungl, M. (2003). Specificity and object marking: The case of Spanish a. In von Heusinger, K. & Kaiser, G. (Eds.), Arbeitspapier Nr. 113. Proceedings of the Workshop “Semantic and Syntactic Aspects of Specificity in Romance Languages” (pp. 67101). Konstanz, Germany: Fachbereich Sprachwissenschaft, Universität Konstanz.Google Scholar
Lozano, C. (2006). Focus and split intransitivity: The acquisition of word order alternations and unaccusativity in L2 Spanish. Second Language Research, 22, 145187.Google Scholar
McCarthy, C. (2008). Morphological variability in the comprehension of agreement: An argument for representation over computation. Second Language Research, 24, 459486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meisel, J. (1997). The acquisition of the syntax of negation in French and German: Contrasting first and second language development. Second Language Research, 13, 227263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Montrul, S. (2004). Subject and object expression in Spanish heritage speakers: A case of morpho-syntactic convergence. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 7, 125142.Google Scholar
Montrul, S., & Rodríguez-Louro, C. (2006). Beyond the syntax of the Null Subject Parameter: A look at the discourse-pragmatic distribution of null and overt subjects by L2 learners of Spanish. In Torrens, V. & Escobar, L. (Eds.), The acquisition of syntax in Romance languages (pp. 401418). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Benjamins.Google Scholar
Montrul, S., & Slabakova, R. (2003). Competence similarities between native and non-native speakers: An investigation of the preterit/imperfect contrast in Spanish. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 25, 351398.Google Scholar
Paradis, J., & Navarro, S. (2003). Subject realization and crosslinguistic interference in the bilingual acquisition of Spanish and English: What is the role of input? Journal of Child Language, 30, 123.Google Scholar
Pérez Leroux, A.-T. (2011). What I don’t understand about interfaces. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 1, 7173.Google Scholar
Prévost, P. (2011). The Interface Hypothesis: What about optionality in native speakers? Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 1, 7983.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Prévost, P., & White, L. (2000). Missing surface inflection or impairment in second language acquisition? Evidence from tense and agreement. Second Language Research, 16, 103134.Google Scholar
Quer, J. (1998). Mood at the interface. Utrecht, the Netherlands: OTS.Google Scholar
Quer, J. (2002). Spanish L2 grammars of mood: On interfaces and learnability. In Costa, J. & Freitas, M. J. (Eds.), Proceedings of GALA 2001 (pp. 189195). Lisbon, Portugal: University of Lisbon.Google Scholar
Rivero, M.-L. (1975). Referential properties of Spanish NPs. Language, 51, 3248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rivero, M.-L. (1977). Specificity and existence: A reply. Language, 53, 7085.Google Scholar
Rothman, J. (2009). Pragmatic deficits with syntactic consequences? L2 pronominal subjects and the syntax-pragmatics interface. Journal of Pragmatics, 41, 951973.Google Scholar
Schwartz, B. (2011). Parsing up the interface hypothesis. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 1, 7478.Google Scholar
Serratrice, L. (2007). Cross-linguistic influence in the interpretation of anaphoric and cataphoric pronouns in English–Italian bilingual children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 10, 225238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Slabakova, R. (2008). Meaning in the second language. Berlin, Germany: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
Slabakova, R. (2009). What is easy and what is hard to acquire in a second language? In Caunt-Nulton, H., Bowles, M., Ionin, I., Montrul, S., & Tremblay, A. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 10th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference (GASLA 2009) (pp. 280294). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.Google Scholar
Slabakova, R., Kempchinsky, P., & Rothman, J. (2012). Clitic-doubled left dislocation and focus fronting in L2 Spanish: A case of successful acquisition at the syntax-discourse interface. Second Language Research, 28, 319343.Google Scholar
Slabakova, R., Rothman, J., & Kempchinsky, P. (2011). Gradient competence at the syntax-discourse interface. In Roberts, L., Pallotti, G., & Bettoni, C. (Eds.), EUROSLA Yearbook, 11, 218243.Google Scholar
Sorace, A. (2004). Native language attrition and developmental instability at the syntax-discourse interface: Data, interpretations and methods. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 7, 143145.Google Scholar
Sorace, A. (2011). Pinning down the concept of “interface” in bilingualism. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 1, 133.Google Scholar
Sorace, A., & Filiaci, F. (2006). Anaphora resolution in near-native speakers of Italian. Second Language Research, 22, 339368.Google Scholar
Sorace, A., Serratrice, L., Filiaci, F., & Baldo, M. (2009). Discourse conditions on subject pronoun realization: Testing the linguistic intuitions of older bilingual children. Lingua, 119, 460477.Google Scholar
Stowell, T. (1993). Syntax of tense. Unpublished manuscript, Linguistics Department, UCLA.Google Scholar
Torrego, E. (1998). The dependencies of objects. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tsimpli, I.-M., & Sorace, A. (2006). Differentiating interfaces: L2 performance in syntax-semantics and syntax-pragmatics phenomena. In Bamman, D., Magmitskaia, T., & Zaller, C. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 30th Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development (pp. 653664). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.Google Scholar
Tsimpli, I.-M., Sorace, A., Heycock, C., & Filiaci, F. (2004). First language attrition and syntactic subjects: A study of Greek and Italian near-native speakers of English. International Journal of Bilingualism, 8, 257277.Google Scholar
Umeda, M. (2008). Second language acquisition of Japanese wh-constructions (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). McGill University, Montreal, Canada.Google Scholar
Uribe-Etxebarria, M. (1994). Interface licensing conditions of NPIs: A theory of polarity and tense interactions (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Connecticut, Storrs.Google Scholar
White, L. (2003). Fossilization in steady state L2 grammars: Persistent problems with inflectional morphology. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 6, 129141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
White, L. (2009). Grammatical theory: Interfaces and L2 knowledge. In Ritchie, W. C. & Bhatia, T. K. (Eds.), The new handbook of second language acquisition. Leeds, UK: Emerald.Google Scholar
White, L. (2011a). The Interface Hypothesis: How far does it extend? Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, 1, 108110.Google Scholar
White, L. (2011b). Second language acquisition at the interfaces. Lingua, 121, 577590.Google Scholar
Yuan, B. (2008). Discrepancy in English speakers’ L2 acquisition of Chinese wh-words as existential polarity words: The L1 dependent interface hypothesis. In Slabakova, R., Rothman, J., Kempchinsky, P., & Gavruseva, E. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 9th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference (GASLA 9) (pp. 272284). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.Google Scholar