Proficiency Matters: L2 Avoidance in Spanish Complex Wh- Production

Maria Turrero-Garcia

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Second Language Acquisition; Derivational Complexity Hypothesis; Avoidance Strategies; Wh- Islands; Production; Spanish.


The Derivational Complexity Hypothesis (Jakubowicz & Strik 2008) proposes that computationally complex structures interact with syntactic constraints in linguistic production, causing the rise of avoidance strategies in child L1 and adult L2 speakers. These avoidance strategies have until recently been understudied in the field of SLA (as opposed to the use of ungrammatical structures), but they actively compete with target-like forms during the language acquisition process and can therefore advance our understanding of non-native linguistic development. This article provides evidence for the DCH based on avoidance strategies shown by non-native speakers of Spanish in the production of the wh- island (How did you say when the jewels were stolen?). Through a game-based elicitation task, speakers at the intermediate and near-native level were prompted to produce questions containing a wh- island. The results show that intermediate speakers of Spanish significantly avoid producing questions that contain an island, as opposed to native and near-native speakers. The strategies used instead of the target are of a less complex nature (pronominalization of the second clause, omission of the middle verb), therefore supporting the DCH. Near-native and native data, on the other hand, show a use of creative strategies that is absent from the intermediate data. Off-target constructions by these groups often consist of questions that are structurally more complex than the intended target forms (use of relative clauses and embedded NPs).


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