Chapter 11. The expression of finiteness by L1 and L2 learners of Dutch, French, and German

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Finiteness is traditionally associated with the morpho-syntactic categories of person and tense. The notion of finiteness has however much wider, semantic and pragmatic ramifications, a fact which has led several researchers to make a distinction between M(orphological) and S(emantic) finiteness. We follow this distinction here. Over the last decade language acquisition researchers have analyzed the expression of finiteness from different theoretical standpoints, mainly analyzing learners’ verbal production in comparable tasks, ranging from spontaneous conversation to more guided complex verbal tasks. With the same methodology, we will examine the acquisition of finiteness by adult learners of French L2 in cross-linguistic comparison with learners of Germanic L2s. The adult acquisition process will also be compared to the child’s acquisition of finiteness in the L1 for the same target languages. All languages in the sample mark finiteness by means of verbal morphology. We will describe the acquisitional paths towards the TL system and the various stages learners pass through on the way. Finally, we ask whether the difference in mastery of the target system by these two types of learner – children achieve mastery of the relevant verbal morphology whereas adults often do not – can throw light on the organisation and functioning of finiteness in language in general.


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