25.3095, Review: Language Acquisition; Linguistic Theories: Dom=?UTF-8?Q?=C3=ADnguez_?=(2013)

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LINGUIST List: Vol-25-3095. Wed Jul 30 2014. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 25.3095, Review: Language Acquisition; Linguistic Theories: Domínguez (2013)

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Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2014 17:56:33
From: Solveiga Armoskaite [solveiga.armoskaite at gmail.com]
Subject: Understanding Interfaces

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-2914.html

AUTHOR: Laura  Domínguez
TITLE: Understanding Interfaces
SUBTITLE: Second language acquisition and first language attrition of Spanish subject realization and word order variation
SERIES TITLE: Language Acquisition and Language Disorders 55
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Solveiga Armoskaite, University of Rochester


The layout and content of the book are as follows: Chapter 1 introduces the
basic tenets of Minimalism and the role that interfaces play in its design.
Domínguez briefly first addresses the now standard assumptions of a tripartite
structure composed of syntax, and the two interfaces, LF (Logical Form) and PF
(Phonetic Form). She points out that based on Chomsky (1995), these are
considered to be the only levels necessary for the construction of linguistic
expressions. However, in her view, the bare bones computational system
presents a problem: it does not capture the syntax-pragmatics interface. Take,
for example, the Extended Projection Principle (EPP), which requires the
subject position to be filled in all languages. In Spanish this requirement
may be satisfied even if the subject is not phonetically realized or does not
move to the designated subject position. In addition, Spanish allows for free
word order. Thus, while a range of possible structures are all well-formed,
they are not, in fact, in free distribution, as they express different
informational content and are appropriate in specific contexts only. This,
Domínguez argues, is the key problem: how are these grammatical alternative
linguistic expressions sorted out by the tripartite UG system? To solve the
problem, Domínguez contemplates Reinhart's (2006) and Jackendoff's (2002)
models. For Reinhart, the solution lies in enriching LF (Logical Form) with
more fine-grained modules that handle inference and context in addition to
concepts. For Jackendoff, the solution lies in loosening the tripartite model.
Specifically, Jackendoff advances a more leveled view of the
syntax-semantic-phonology interaction: for him, each of the grammar modules
contributes equally. Domínguez, in turn, asks how these alternatives are
sorted out in L2 acquisition.

Chapter 2 presents an examination of the syntactic, prosodic, and pragmatic
constraints that are known to affect the position of subjects in a Spanish
sentence. To summarize, Domínguez recounts that (i) subjects first merge in
[Spec, VP] and optionally move to IP to satisfy EPP; (ii) a null referential
pronoun, a null expletive, and either an overt or null adverbial can also
satisfy EPP; (iii) subjects can optionally stay in their original position.

The properties of scrambling, fragment answers, and clitic left dislocation
are discussed in great detail. Domínguez convincingly argues that the movement
component of the syntactic operations may be optional, and is required to meet
interpretative requirements of the interfaces. That is, while the position of
phrases in sentences is conveyed by syntax, it is ultimately determined by

Chapter 3 is devoted to presenting, analyzing, and assessing the current
interface hypotheses in the light of L2 acquisition. Domínguez's main claim is
that syntactic structure may be impaired in acquisition of L2, if L2 and L1
differ in language specific properties. Based on Spanish data presented in
Chapter 2, she argues that, for example, variation in subject properties
across languages affects acquisition of L2. Thus, an English speaker would
potentially stumble in the acquisition of Spanish subject distribution. Null
and postverbal subjects are prominent in Spanish, in contrast to English.
These contrasts can be reduced to a difference in the inventory of abstract
features that drive syntax.

Chapter 4 discusses the second language acquisition of two interface phenomena
by English learners of Spanish: null/overt and post-verbal subjects, both
constrained by focus and syntax. First, Domínguez provides an overview of the
previous studies on null/overt subject and problems observed.
Overgeneralization, for example, is a common problem in both overt and null
subject acquisition. For the purposes of her study, the relevant observation
gleaned from the literature is that pragmatic deficits are not as persistent
as L1/L2 differences would lead one to believe. Next, Domínguez turns to word
order studies, which have been much rarer. Here, again, the relevant
observation is that inversion of subjects is slower and more gradual than
acquisition of null subjects. For Domínguez, this is an inconsistency because
the current view would predict there should be no divergence here: both null
and inverse subjects are constrained by syntax and pragmatics. Finally,
Domínguez describes her own empirical studies, (i) in comprehension; and (ii)
in production. The focus of both studies is on the acquisition of subject
realization and word order variation.

Data were obtained from three groups of L2 Spanish speakers and a group of
native Spanish speakers. The data were collected using a range of tasks: story
retelling, a paired discussion task, and an interview with an investigator.
The sixty learner participants were native speakers of English learning
Spanish. Ages ranged from complete beginners (13-14) to very advanced
undergraduates in the final year of a Spanish degree. The results of both
studies indicate that a possible syntactic deficit persists in the grammars of
English speakers of Spanish; that is, the results of the studies cannot be due
only to pragmatic impairment.

Chapter 5 covers the same issues as Chapter 4 except the native grammars of
late Spanish-English bilinguals are the source of data. The focus is on
non-pathological native syntactic attrition where an adult grammar is
modified, restructured, or partially lost as a result of quantitative or
qualitative changes in L2 input or extensive exposure to input from another
language. The participants of the production and comprehension studies were
Spanish-English bilinguals living in two different areas: Miami, Florida (US)
and south-east England (UK). Thirty-one native speakers of Spanish (average
age 61) living in an English-speaking country for an average of thirty-five
years were interviewed. The results of the studies show that (i) word order
variation and subject realization are, indeed, vulnerable areas in
attrition-prone environments; (ii) the observed attrition cannot be due only
to pragmatic impairment. Moreover, Domínguez notes that community specific
differences in L1 input need to be taken into account in future studies of

Chapter 6 brings the book to an end with findings, conclusions, and


Linguists interested in the acquisition-driven theory are the target audience
for this book. From the point of view of an acquisitionist, Domínguez
challenges a common key premise: that the syntax-pragmatics interface is the
primary candidate for variation in L2 acquisition.
Having examined the learner and native speaker data, Domínguez posits that
syntactic representations also can be impaired, and that they are subject to
the same difficulties as properties at interfaces. Moreover, she argues that
there is no clear theoretical support for differentiating between internal and
external interfaces in any of the models of grammar reviewed.

The book’s main proposal that interface-based models need to accommodate the
possibility that ''core'' syntactic representations can also be impaired.
Essentially, Domínguez suggests that we should eliminate the distinction
between ''core'' syntactic and interface phenomena. In line with Reinhart
(2006) and Jackendoff (1997, 2002), she argues that all syntactic structures
can be subject to impairment and vulnerability. Her arguments in support of
this view rely on the acquisition and attrition data from Spanish.

In Spanish, subjects can take multiple positions within the same sentence. The
two empirical studies presented in the book converge in showing that syntactic
properties of subject realization and word order variation can be a source of
divergence of L2 acquisition and native attrition. This does not support the
main prediction of the currently assumed Interface Hypothesis, where
divergence is viewed as an issue reflecting the syntax-pragmatics interface.
Domínguez shows that advanced L2 speakers incorrectly overproduced structures
with inversion in syntax-only contexts.

Domínguez argues for the view that parameterization -- feature selection
(lexical parameterization) and language specific interface mappings -- are the
key factors in explaining problems in L2 acquisition. She maintains that
current minimalist approaches focus either on lexical parameterization or on
interface mappings, while the two factors should be tackled simultaneously.

The author successfully challenges the current view of Interface Hypothesis
from the minimalist perspective, grounding her arguments in solid empirical
data. Her arguments remind us that a constant re-evaluation of theory should
shape our assumptions and research questions. The intriguing possibility would
be to see if her arguments would withstand a cross-linguistic test; e.g., if
her findings would be similar for other Romance languages and beyond.

This book is aimed at an informed reader who is well versed in theoretical as
well as empirical issues of second language acquisition. In order to
appreciate the Spanish-English contrasts and similarities, the reader is
expected to already have a solid knowledge of the specific empirical data,
such as cross-linguistic variation in subject manifestations, the range and
relevance of word order alternatives, and the like. Moreover, cutting edge
knowledge of the current trends within generative grammar is required, too.
The relevance of its contribution to the study of language acquisition and how
it relates to theory will make this book useful to researchers who worry about
supporting their theory with solid empirical data.


Chomsky, N. (1995). The minimalist program. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Jackendoff, R. (2002). Foundations of language: Brain, meaning, grammar,
evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jackendoff, R. (1997). The architecture of the language faculty. Cambridge:
MIT Press.

Reinhart, T. (2006). Interface strategies. Reference-set computation.
Cambridge: MIT Press.


Solveiga Armoskaite is currently a Visiting Assistant professor at University
of Rochester. She is particularly interested in how syntactic categories
emerge, and what makes them vary across languages, e.g. to what extent the
notion of nounhood is universal. She also explores what syntactic features
are, how they cluster, interact and drive syntactic derivation, e.g. how a
feature like grammatical gender or definiteness manifests itself in unrelated
languages. Solveiga is passionate about any kind of fieldwork data driving
theoretical speculation.

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