Interlanguage and Learnability
From Chinese to English
This book investigates a set of structures characteristic of Chinese speakers' English interlanguage (CIL) in the light of grammatical theory and principles of learnability. As a study of CIL grammar, it illuminates both the theory of interlanguage syntax in general and some specific problems in the acquisition of English by Chinese L1 learners. A set of interrelated structures are investigated, including topicalization, passive, ergative, “tough movement” and existential constructions. The interlanguage is approached through the comparative syntax of the relevant L1 and L2 constructions, combining insights from Chomskyan Universal Grammar and typological research. CIL proves to be permeable to Chinese typological influence and bears topic-prominent characteristics, while showing effects of language universals. A parallel theme of the book is the question of learnability in the context of second language acquisition. The Subset and Uniqueness Principles are adapted to the L2 context so as to account for learning difficulty as well as successful acquisition. Under-generation and over-generation of the interlanguage and target constructions give rise to learnability problems which are formulated in terms of set relations at the level of individual constructions. The Uniqueness Principle is invoked to motivate preemption of overgenerated forms. The interaction of syntax and semantics plays a crucial role in the formulation and resolution of these learnability problems. General conceptual issues raised by the Subset and Uniqueness Principles are also discussed.