Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Second Language Acquisition

First Advisor

Slabakova, Roumyana

First Committee Member

Gavruseva, Elena

Second Committee Member

Hurtig, Richard

Third Committee Member

Kempchinsky, Paula

Fourth Committee Member

Rappaport, Gilbert


This dissertation investigates second language (L2) development in the domains of morphosyntax and semantics. Specifically, it examines the acquisition of definiteness and specificity in Russian within the Feature Re-assembly framework (Lardiere, 2009), according to which the hardest L2 learning task is not to reset parameters but to reconfigure, or remap features from the way they are assembled in the L1 into new formal configurations in the L2. Within the Feature Re-assembly approach, it has been argued that re-assembling features that are represented overtly in the L1 and mapping them onto those that are encoded covertly by context in the L2 will present a greater difficulty than re-assembling features in the opposite direction (Slabakova, 2009). This dissertation examines the acquisition of four linguistic properties (types of modifiers, word order, indefinite determiners and case marking) that encode definiteness and specificity overtly or covertly in L2 Russian by English and Korean speakers. The native languages of the learners were chosen specifically in order to test various overt-covert mappings.

The data obtained from two experimental tasks (grammaticality and felicity judgments) completed by 56 Russian native speaker controls, 51 English- and 53 Korean-speaking learners support Slabakova's prediction that overt-to-covert realization of the feature is more challenging than covert-to-overt realization. In addition, the findings uncovered other important factors facilitating or impeding acquisition, such as the nature of the form-to-meaning mapping (one-to-one or one-to-many) and the availability of clear, unambiguous evidence for a certain mapping in the input available to learners. Results also reveal that the presence or absence of the L1 transfer depends on the overt/covert status of the feature in the L2. That is, when the feature is marked overtly in both the L1 and L2, L1 transfer has facilitative effect on the acquisition of the feature. On the contrary, when the feature is marked covertly in both the L1 and L2, L1 transfer has no or negative effects. These findings provide new insights into the effects of the native language on L2 learnability and enable us to come to a more precise and fine-grained understanding of grammatical meaning acquisition in the second language.


Defintieness, Feature Re-assembly, Generative Second Language Acquisition, L2 Learnability, Russian, Specificity


xiv, 262 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 251-262).


Copyright 2012 Ji-Hyeon Jacee Cho