Acquisition and Processing of Japanese Passives by Heritage Speakers and JFL learners: Effects of Manner of Input and Early Age of Acquisition

Title: Acquisition and Processing of Japanese Passives by Heritage Speakers and JFL learners: Effects of Manner of Input and Early Age of Acquisition
Authors: Aizu, Yoriko
Date: 2016
Abstract: The general aim of this study is to investigate the similarities and differences in knowledge and processing of Japanese passive constructions by heritage speakers and second language (L2) learners of Japanese. These groups acquire language differently in terms of age and context/manner of acquisition, and comparing their linguistic behaviour allows us to examine whether heritage speakers have an advantage over L2 learners due to their early exposure and natural context of input. In order to examine this issue, the linguistic knowledge of Japanese passives and the way in which they are processed were compared between the two populations. I tested the two different types of passives that are available in Japanese: the type that involves the syntax-semantics-discourse interface (indirect passive and ni-direct passive), and the one that does not involve that interface (niyotte passive). It has been found that advanced heritage speakers and L2 learners have difficulties with structures involving different structural levels, especially structures at the interface with discourse (Laleko & Polinsky, 2013; Montrul & Polinsky, 2011, among many others), as the interfaces involving an external cognitive domain (e.g., syntax-discourse) require more processing resources than linguistic internal interfaces (e.g., syntax-semantics) (Sorace, 2011). While such representational and processing difficulties have been reported for several languages, previous studies on the acquisition of Japanese passives by both L1 and L2 learners have found the opposite: namylt, that the niyotte passive, which does not involve an external interface, being acquired later than the other two passives, which are discourse dependent (Harada & Fukuda 1998 for L1; Hara 2002 for L2). These results may be attributed to syntax derivation or frequency of use. The niyotte passive is considered to be derived by movement, while the other two are said to be base-generated. Thus, both the complexity of the syntactic derivation and the fact that usage of niyotte passive is usually limited to formal speech or written texts may delay acquisition. Examining the acquisition and processing of Japanese passives allows us to analyse the factors that play a crucial role in determining the difficulty of acquisition. In order to investigate these factors, I used two experimental tasks, an acceptability judgment task (AJT) and a self-paced listening task (SPL). The former investigated heritage speakers’ and Japanese as a foreign language (JFL) learners’ knowledge of each type of Japanese passives. The latter allowed us to test whether there are any differences in the processing of the two types of passives; specifically, whether the passives with an external interface are more difficult for L2 learners and heritage speakers to process. A control group of native speakers and a group of first generation immigrants to Canada were also tested to compare their results to those of the two experimental groups, allowing us to investigate whether heritage speakers have knowledge and processing patterns similar to those of the control group due to their early language exposure to the language and contextualized input. The results of the AJT showed that each experimental group displayed a stronger knowledge of different aspects of Japanese passives. While the heritage speakers recognised the pragmatic features of the ni-direct passive, the JFL learners did not. In contrast, the JFL learners showed syntactic and semantic knowledge of the indirect passive, unlike the heritage speakers. These contrastive results indicate that different manners of input lead to different acquisition outcomes. Furthermore, neither group demonstrated knowledge of the low frequency niyotte passive, and thus input frequency, rather than the discourse-related interface, appear to be more critical for the acquisition of Japanese passives. With respect to the SPL, the speakers’ performance was native-like in the case of the heritage speakers but non-native with the JFL learners, indicating that early age of exposure has an effect on language processing. Taken together, the results from the both tasks showcase the importance of both implicit and explicit manner of input, especially in the case of low frequency structures, as well as the early age of acquisition of a language.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -