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Representational and processing constraints on the acquisition of case and gender by L1 English learners of Russian: a corpus study

Peirce, Gina M. (2015) Representational and processing constraints on the acquisition of case and gender by L1 English learners of Russian: a corpus study. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Inflectional morphology errors have been found to be prevalent in adult second language production, even by learners with high overall proficiency and extensive L2 exposure. Particular difficulties are observed with acquisition of complex inflectional systems by learners whose first languages are less morphologically rich. Thus, L1 English learners acquiring the Russian case and gender systems can provide a testing ground for competing approaches to L2 morphological acquisition. This study utilizes the Russian Learner Corpus of Academic Writing, consisting of texts by advanced learners in Portland State University’s Russian Language Flagship program, to compare frequencies of case and gender-marking errors in timed versus untimed compositions by a sample of heritage and traditional L2 learners in order to gauge the putative effect of processing pressure on such errors. It was predicted that significantly more frequent errors in timed compositions would support the position that inflectional morphology errors by advanced learners largely reflect processing difficulties under time pressure. However, results for the heritage group showed that while descriptive tendencies appeared to point toward processing difficulties, the difference between timed and untimed error rates did not reach statistical significance. In the L2 group, error rates were higher in students’ untimed texts than in their timed texts, although this difference also did not reach significance. The lack of reliable differences between timed and untimed error rates could be interpreted as demonstrating representational deficits in learners’ interlanguage grammar, particularly in the L2 group. However, the greater complexity (measured by words per T-unit) of the untimed essays provides an alternative explanation for the unexpected finding of a higher untimed error rate among the L2 learners, for whom the correlation between differences in complexity and error rates for timed and untimed texts approached significance. For the heritage learners, error rates appeared to be affected more by time pressure than text complexity. In addition, the heritage group had lower case-marking and significantly lower gender-marking error rates than the L2 group. This finding suggests that heritage learners are less likely than traditional L2 learners to show evidence of possible representational deficits of nominal functional features in their interlanguage grammar.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Peirce, Gina M.gbpeirce@pitt.eduGBPEIRCE
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairJuffs, Alanjuffs@pitt.eduJUFFS
Committee MemberBirnbaum, David J.djbpitt@pitt.eduDJBPITT
Committee MemberHan, Na-Raenaraehan@pitt.eduNARAEHAN
Date: 9 September 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 3 August 2015
Approval Date: 9 September 2015
Submission Date: 9 August 2015
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 53
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Linguistics
Degree: MA - Master of Arts
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: linguistics, applied linguistics, language acquisition, language learning, foreign language learning, advanced language learning, second language acquisition, second language learning, L2 acquisition, L2 learning, L2 Russian, Russian, Slavic, Russian linguistics, Slavic linguistics, Russian language learning, Slavic language learning, heritage speakers, heritage learners, heritage language speakers, heritage language learners, morphology, inflectional morphology, morphosyntax, grammatical case, grammatical gender, morphological processing, L2 processing, second language processing, corpus, learner corpus, language learner corpus, L2 learner corpus, L2 corpus, interlanguage, representational deficit, processing pressure, cognitive load
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Date Deposited: 09 Sep 2015 13:05
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:29


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