Directionality of difficulty in second language acquisition of Chinese and English
This thesis is concerned with the investigation of directionality of difficulty in second language acquisition (SLA) by Chinese-speaking learners learning English as a foreign language (EFL) and by English-speaking learners learning Chinese as a foreign language (CFL) . Chinese allows both subject PRO in finite clauses and object pro. However, subject PRO in finite clauses and object pro give rise to ungrammaticality in English. Unlike Chinese, in which topics can be base-generated, English does not allow a base-generated topic. Chinese and English are also different in that while English reflexives can only take a local subject in finite clauses as their antecedent (thus a short-distance reflexive), the Chinese reflexive ziji can take the matrix subject as well as the embedded subject as its antecedent (thus a long-distance reflexive) . With respect to these differences between the two languages, our focus is on whether it is more difficult for CFL learners to acquire subject PRO, object pro, base-generated topics and the long-distance reflexive in the acquisition of Chinese than for EFL learners to unlearn subject PRO, object pro, base-generated topics and the long-distance reflexive in the acquisition of English. The results of our study suggest that there is no single direction of difficulty in the SLA of Chinese and English. In terms of object pro, the direction of difficulty is from Chinese to English. However, in acquiring and unlearning the subject PRO, neither CFL learners nor EFL learners seem to have much difficulty. As for base-generated topics, it is found that the acquisition of this feature by CFL learners is more difficult than the unlearning of this feature by EFL learners. The results concerning the acquisition of the Chinese long-distance reflexive ziji by CFL learners suggest that a lack of long-distance binding for ziji is fossilized in these learners' interlanguage (IL) grammars of Chinese. Based on the findings in this study, we argue that the directionality of difficulty in SLA can only be studied with respect to individual language features and that the mere existence of relevant positive evidence in the input is not a guarantee that there will be a change in the learner's IL grammar. There are many factors involved in deciding the direction of difficulty in SLA. These factors include the availability of informative evidence to the learner, the possibility that the learner makes use of the evidence available for the restructuring of his IL grammar of the target language, the learners' ability to process the relevant data in the input, and the interaction between the structure in the learners' L1 and the inherent developmental stage of the target language.
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