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Morphological variability at the morphosyntactic/semantic interface: Difficulty with epistemic modality in L2 Spanish. Morphological variability in L2

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Recent literature in second language acquisition shows that syntax-driven structures give way to successful modal interpretation and morphological production, while discourse-dependent environments do not (Sorace, 2005; Tsimpli & Sorace, 2006, Borganovo, Bruhn de Garavito, & Prévost, 2008; Iverson, Kempchinsky, & Rothman, 2008). It has also been suggested that discourse-dependent environments involve both structural and pragmatic knowledge of L2, which intersect at the syntax-discourse interface (Sorace, 2005; Iverson, Kempchinsky, & Rothman, 2008), thereby requiring a multi-layered understanding of the target language. The present study contributes to this line of research by further examining morphological variability (Prévost & White, 2000; Sorace, 2000; Sorace, 2005; Iverson, Kempchinsky, & Rothman, 2008; Slabakova, 2009) in L2 acquisition at the morphosyntactic-semantic interface, following the work of Borganovo, Bruhn de Garavito, & Prévost (2008). The results of our study reveal that learners, even at advanced stages of acquisition, perform poorly in epistemic environments where syntax and discourse intersect. In such environments, there appears to be an interaction with pragmatics (cf. Iverson, Kempchinsky, & Rothman, 2008) that causes learners to opt for the indicative mood, even when the subjunctive is prescriptively required. Unlike deontic modality, which is essentially syntax-driven, epistemic modality requires structural knowledge, as well as knowledge from other domains (Sorace, 2005). Our study reveals that learners at all levels of instruction performed better in “purely syntactic” environments of deontic modality than in pragmatically challenging epistemic environments.
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Keywords: deontic; epistemic; modality; morphology; semantics; syntax

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2014

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