This is a preprint
Unaccusative and Unergative Verbs in L2 English
Abstract

A number of studies in the second language (L2) research argue that a general unergative-unaccusative distinction is made syntactically and semantically in adult L2 acquisition. Attempts to provide empirical evidence of the L2 English unergative-unaccusative distinction by adult Chinese speakers have only recently begun to appear. The present study investigates the acquisition of unergative and unaccusative verbs in L2 English by adult Chinese speakers. One hundred and twenty-one L1 Chinese speakers of different levels of English proficiency participated in a judgment test and a Chinese-English translation task. It is argued that the results are consistent with proposals made by Yip (1995) and Balcom (1997) which argue for overgeneralization of passive morphology to unaccusative verbs in L2 English. The results also show that, contrary to findings in the literature, learners have persistent difficulty establishing native-like syntactic realization of unergative verbs in L2 English: unergative verbs seem to have been interpreted as transitive verbs. It is speculated that the low accuracy on unergative verbs can be accounted for when Case assignment and the absence of positive evidence that unergative+NP construction is not allowed in English are factored in.


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