Who: Alyona Belikova

When: Friday, November 1st, 2:30pm, followed by a reception in the linguistics lounge

Where: ARTS Building, Rm. 160

Title: Getting L2 Reflexive and Reciprocal Verbs Right


This dissertation investigates whether or not linguistically misleading classroom instruction can affect second language (L2) acquisition. Of particular interest are linguistically inappropriate classroom rules which are superficially logical but linguistically false.

A case in point is provided by French reflexive and reciprocal verbs, which are formed with the clitic se. The reflexive/reciprocal clitic se does not behave on a par with object clitic pronouns as many reliable syntactic diagnostics suggest (Kayne 1975, Reinhart & Siloni 2005). Superficially, however, se generally resembles object clitic pronouns, due to similarities in distribution and form. It is, then, not surprising that classroom French L2 instruction consistently misrepresents se verbs as syntactic transitive constructions, and se itself as a reflexive/reciprocal object pronoun. Two experimental tasks (contextualized grammaticality judgments and truth value judgments) are designed to examine whether Russian- and English-speaking L2 learners of French adopt the linguistically inaccurate classroom generalization or converge on a native-like representation of se. Both tasks involve constructions where se and clitic pronouns behave differently. In addition, a questionnaire on se taps participants’ recollection of any explicit classroom instruction. The most important finding of the dissertation is that although about half of participants refer to se as an object pronoun in the sequestionnaire – thus showing that they remembered the classroom generalization – L2 learners still clearly make the relevant native-like distinction between se and true object pronouns in the experimental tasks. Learners’ failure to internalize superficially logical but linguistically false generalizations at the level of linguistic competence – as opposed to the level of learned linguistic knowledge (Schwartz 1993) – suggests that adult language acquirers must still employ language-specific learning mechanisms and go beyond instruction.

While focusing on the L2 acquisition of French reflexive and reciprocal verbs by native speakers of Russian and English, the present dissertation also reformulates the existing literature on the related phenomena in light of current developments in theoretical syntax and develops an analysis of reflexive and reciprocal verbs which has adequate empirical coverage and also does away with certain previous stipulations.