Aquisition of some features of English syntax by four groups of adolescent migrants to Australia
Borland, Helen Elizabeth
A study of the acquisition of features of English syntax by adolescent immigrants to Australia is undertaken with the purpose of contributing to our understanding of factors which may influence the second language acquisition process. The main aims are to investigate: (1) the presence of systematicity underlying the learners' often variable realisation of features of second language syntax, and the environments and forms which may constrain any such systematicity. (2) the interrelatedness of the learning of discrete areas of syntax. (3) the effect of the learners' native language on any patterns which are found to underlie their use of features. (4) the relationship of cross-sectionally and longitudinally , determined stages of development. Aspects of four areas of syntax, copula, predicate complementation, negation and articles, in a number of syntactic environments, are investigated. Implicational Analysis techniques are employed to enable the analysis of variable data. Using two elicitation procedures, a sentence correction task and a modified cloze task, data is collected from learners on four separate occasions at two-monthly intervals. Seventy seven adolescent learners of English from four native language groups, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Vietnamese, participate in the study. All are attending Melbourne High Schools and have been in Australia less than two and a half years at Time 1. The analysis reveals that for all groups, when sufficient data is available, the environments and forms hypothesised to constrain the learners' variable realisation of features do so. Variable rules and continua of development are able to be formulated, which describe the system's the groups of learners are using. Similarly, the analysis shows that an interrelationship exists between the learning or features from the four structural areas. This interrelationship is found to be particularly strong among features relating to the same main sentence constituent, either NP or VP. The patterns obtained in the learners from the four native language groups are found to share certain common properties. However, important differences are also apparent, especially at the level of the environmental constraints on the realisation of features. The concept of language distance is invoked to account for the degree of similarity and difference in the patterns in the four groups. In addition, the patterns determined cross-sectionally for each group are found to be accurate predictors of the longitudinal developmental patterns evident in individual learners over time. As a result of the findings some refinements of the Interlanguage Developmental Continuum model of second language acquisition are suggested and some implications of the findings for our understanding of the role of the native language in influencing second language patterns of development are discussed.