Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Second Language Acquisition

First Advisor

Slabakova, Roumyana

First Committee Member

Kempchinsky, Paula

Second Committee Member

Gavruseva, Elena

Third Committee Member

Farmer, Thomas

Fourth Committee Member

Dekydtspotter, Laurent


Previous research in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) has shown that some of the systematic errors of second language (L2) learners can be attributed to the influence of the native language (L1). In fact, many hypotheses in generative SLA have focused on the role of L1 transfer ranging the spectrum from No Transfer to Full Transfer. The goal of this dissertation was to investigate L1 transfer by focusing on L1-L2 differences in terms of linguistic features; specifically, how differences in the featural and morpholexical organization of L1 and L2 pronominal paradigms affect SLA.

In this work I operationalize L1 transfer in terms of the Feature Reassembly Hypothesis (FRH; Lardiere, 2009). The hypothesis pioneers conceptualization of L1 transfer as an initial attempt by L2 learners to establish a direct mapping between L1 and L2 forms. The FRH is particularly suitable to the study of L2 development because it predicts that when a one-to-one initial mapping is unsuccessful, L2 learners will gradually reorganize the L1 grammatical system until they attain (possibly complete) convergence. Empirical testing of the hypothesis is critical since determining when and why transfer occurs opens numerous possibilities to predict transfer errors and to develop pedagogical approaches to tackle negative transfer.

In the current study I focus on the L2 acquisition of four 3rd person singular French object pronouns in the interlanguage of native speakers of English. Difficulties in the acquisition of Romance object pronouns have been amply documented in L2 research. However, most of the previous studies of the topic have focused on L2 acquisition of clitic pronouns and their syntactic properties. The present study takes a novel approach investigating the acquisition of strong as well as clitic pronouns. In my dissertation I test different kinds of knowledge including learners' comprehension of different kinds of pronouns. Going beyond production data, my experimental tasks include a grammaticality judgment task with correction, a picture selection task, and a self-paced reading task. The experimental tasks were administered to a group of native speakers (n=43) and L2 learners of French (n=87). The overall picture that emerges from the current study allows unveiling the initial mapping and subsequent reassembly of the semantic and morphosyntactic features implicated in the acquisition process of the four forms under investigation.

Public Abstract

This dissertation looked at the impact of one’s native language on the acquisition of a second language. More specifically, it investigated the acquisition of French object pronouns in the developing grammar of native speakers of English who are learning French. The influence of one’s native language on how a second language is acquired has been one of the central questions in the field of second language acquisition. Even though it is clear that the native language plays a significant role in the process of second language development, the second language acquisition field still lacks a profound understanding of (1) what exactly is being transferred, (2) the role of one’s native language at the initial state of acquisition, and (3) the subsequent interaction between the native language and the second language.

In order to expand our understanding of these issues the current dissertation used a variety of data elicitation methods, probing grammatical knowledge, comprehension and real-time processing, to uncover how native speakers of English acquire the system of French object pronouns that differs in significant ways from their native system of pronouns. The problem was investigated from the theoretical standpoint of a new hypothesis (the Feature Reassembly Hypothesis, Lardiere 2007, 2009). Applied to the second language acquisition of French object pronouns, the hypothesis allows specific predictions about acquisitional sequence of stages and foreseeable errors on the route to successful mastery of French object pronouns. These predictions were tested in various tasks with L2 learners at different levels of proficiency to describe the intermediate stages of the pronoun system until it is completely restructured to the target-like system.


publicabstract, Features, French, Second Language Acquisition


xiv, 222 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 187-203).


Copyright 2015 Elena Mikhaylovna Shimanskaya