Testing the Head Directionality Parameter in L2 Japanese



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It had been hypothesized that Universal Grammar specifies both universal principles of language to which all of the world’s languages conform, and a small set of parameters, by which languages may vary. The Head Directionality Parameter (HDP) was hypothesized to govern two basic, widely attested, word order options: subject-object-verb (Japanese-type languages) and subject-verb-object (English-type languages). The HDP is also thought to govern the relative ordering of all heads and complements in a given languages. This thesis reports two studies that test the psycholinguistic validity of the HDP in adult second language acquisition. In Study 1, classroom learners of L2 Japanese who had not had exposure to embedded clauses but did know basic word order were tested on their sensitivity to violations of grammatical complementizer-clause word order. In Study 2, native English speakers who had had no prior exposure to Japanese received basic input regarding word order in Japanese in simple SOV sentences and in post-positional phrases. They were then tested on their sensitivity to violations of head-final word order in polar questions and embedded clauses. In both studies, participants took longer to read ungrammatical sentences than they did grammatical ones, suggesting that the HDP is active in adult SLA.