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Informing Debates on the Mental Representations of L2 Syntax

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2010

Jason Rothman*
University of Iowa
Tiffany Judy
University of Iowa
Pedro Guijarro-Fuentes
University of Plymouth
Acrisio Pires
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
*Address correspondence to: Jason Rothman, 111 Phillips Hall, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242; e-mail:


This study contributes to a central debate within contemporary generative second language (L2) theorizing: the extent to which adult learners are (un)able to acquire new functional features that result in a L2 grammar that is mentally structured like the native target (see White, 2003). The adult acquisition of L2 nominal phi-features is explored, with focus on the syntactic and semantic reflexes in the related domain of adjective placement in two experimental groups: English-speaking intermediate (n = 21) and advanced (n = 24) learners of Spanish, as compared to a native-speaker control group (n = 15). Results show that, on some of the tasks, the intermediate L2 learners appear to have acquired the syntactic properties of the Spanish determiner phrase but, on other tasks, to show some delay with the semantic reflexes of prenominal and postnominal adjectives. Crucially, however, our data demonstrate full convergence by all advanced learners and thus provide evidence in contra the predictions of representational deficit accounts (e.g., Hawkins & Chan, 1997; Hawkins & Franceschina, 2004; Hawkins & Hattori, 2006).

Research Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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