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Open Access Morphological Bottleneck: The Case of Russian Heritage Speakers

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Morphological Bottleneck: The Case of Russian Heritage Speakers

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The Bottleneck Hypothesis (Slabakova, 2008) assumes functional morphology to be a particular challenge in second language (L2) acquisition whereas acquisition of syntax and semantics to be unproblematic. I propose, following Polinsky (2011), that functional morphology can be seen as an acquisitional bottleneck for heritage language (HL) speakers as well. Russian verbal aspect is known to be problematic in bilingual Russian children (Anstatt, 2008; Gupol, 2009), in adult foreign language learners (Slabakova, 2005, Nossalik, 2009) and in Russian heritage speakers of low (Polinsky, 2008) and even near-native fluency (Laleko, 2010).This comprehension study tested fluent and literate English dominant HL speakers of Russian on their interpretation of lexical and grammatical aspect. The findings suggest that the semantics and syntax of aspect were unproblematic, but aspectual morphology played both a facilitative and a hindering role in the comprehension of aspectual distinctions. In the untimed Semantic Entailments task, where participants chose the most logical continuation of an utterance, the morphological complexity of secondary imperfectives coupled with their semantic complexity, hindered HL interpretations. In contrast, in the Stop-Making-Sense self-paced reading task, in which participants read sentences one word at a time, the idiosyncratic morphology marking lexical aspect hindered HL processing, while the regular mechanism of marking grammatical aspect facilitated it.

Affiliations: 1: The University of Queensland, a.mikhaylova@uq.edu.au

The Bottleneck Hypothesis (Slabakova, 2008) assumes functional morphology to be a particular challenge in second language (L2) acquisition whereas acquisition of syntax and semantics to be unproblematic. I propose, following Polinsky (2011), that functional morphology can be seen as an acquisitional bottleneck for heritage language (HL) speakers as well. Russian verbal aspect is known to be problematic in bilingual Russian children (Anstatt, 2008; Gupol, 2009), in adult foreign language learners (Slabakova, 2005, Nossalik, 2009) and in Russian heritage speakers of low (Polinsky, 2008) and even near-native fluency (Laleko, 2010).This comprehension study tested fluent and literate English dominant HL speakers of Russian on their interpretation of lexical and grammatical aspect. The findings suggest that the semantics and syntax of aspect were unproblematic, but aspectual morphology played both a facilitative and a hindering role in the comprehension of aspectual distinctions. In the untimed Semantic Entailments task, where participants chose the most logical continuation of an utterance, the morphological complexity of secondary imperfectives coupled with their semantic complexity, hindered HL interpretations. In contrast, in the Stop-Making-Sense self-paced reading task, in which participants read sentences one word at a time, the idiosyncratic morphology marking lexical aspect hindered HL processing, while the regular mechanism of marking grammatical aspect facilitated it.

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/content/journals/10.1163/19552629-01102005
2018-04-12
2018-09-22

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