Seminários do Programa de Linguística da UFRJ, nos dias 11 e 15 de agosto de 2014

Na próxima semana, o Programa de Linguística da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro promove dois seminários:

Jessica Diebowski (University of Wuppertal, Alemanha) apresentará a palestra “Spanish Gender Agreement: Are Adult Heritage Speakers and Second Language Learners really incomplete acquirers?”, na 2a feira, 11 de agosto, às 14h, Auditório Guimarães Rosa (F-324), na Faculdade de Letras, Cidade Universitária – UFRJ.

Gennaro Chierchia (Harvard University) apresentará a palestra “Subconscious Contradictions”, na 6a feira, 15 de agosto, às 14h, Auditório Guimarães Rosa (F-324), na Faculdade de Letras, Cidade Universitária – UFRJ.

Resumo da palestra 1
Spanish Gender Agreement: Are Adult Heritage Speakers and Second Language Learners really incomplete acquirers?
Jessica Diebowski
University of Wuppertal, Germany

ABSTRACT: Gender in Spanish represents a difficult grammatical category to acquire for English speakers. A recurrent claim of research (e.g. Montrul et al. 2008) on the acquisition of gender concerns the limits of ultimate attainment in the L2 grammar, arguing that L2 learners cannot reach results at native-like level because of maturational constraints. From this perspective, L2 learners display a high number of errors regarding gender assignment and agreement despite many years of studying the foreign language (Corbett 1991; Germany & Salazar 1998; Alarcón 2006; Doughty & Long 2008). With regard to heritage speakers, scholars (Montrul 2002; Montrul et al. 2008) argue that language loss, due to exposure to English, negatively affects gender assignment. Yet, the degree of competence that intermediate and advanced L2 learners of Spanish have in contrast to heritage speakers has not been widely investigated. The present study examines the knowledge of Spanish gender assignment and agreement in a written test by 49 English-speaking learners of Spanish at two different university levels (intermediate and advanced), with 24 heritage speakers as a baseline. The responses were recorded and analyzed for differences in the number and error patterns of gender assignment and agreement errors between the three different groups. Results of the test showed that intermediate L2 learners produced more gender errors than advanced L2 learners, suggesting that the proficiency level and the underlying vocabulary and grammar knowledge affect gender accuracy. In general, heritage speakers were more accurate than L2 learners. A closer examination of the written productions revealed that advanced proficiency L2 learners and heritage speakers have gender in their underlying grammars and do not display incomplete acquisition. Further results of the study indicate that all three groups show sensitivity to the noun gender and morphology when exhibiting correct gender agreement. Finally, a significant masculine default effect has also been found in the L2 learners and heritage speakers.

Resumo da palestra 2
Subconscious Contradictions
Gennaro Chierchia
Harvard University

Traditionally, the main locus of meaning in natural language is taken to be content words, like mouse, cat, or eat. Content words associate with concepts that relate to things in our environment. In virtue of this association, arrays of words (like cats eat mice) come to convey information, beliefs, hopes, etc. about the world. There is growing evidence that this view misses the key ingredient of how sentences come to have meaning. The key ingredient is constituted by function words: and, if, not, the past tense morpheme –ed, only, why, etc. Function words determine the grammatical skeleton of languages; they are also where logic is hidden. The semantics of function words is constituted by largely innate inferential schemata, through which we reason about the world and categorize it. The way in which logic shapes meaning is through ‘subconscious contradictions’. Many sentences that are perceived as ‘ungrammatical’ or ‘syntactically deviant’ turn out to be just contradictory. For example, Negative Polarity violations like *there are any cookies left on the table, that ‘feel like’ agreement violations, turn out to be deviant because they are contradictory and therefore cannot be used for communicative purposes. This prima facie implausible claim immediately raises the issue of sentences like it rains an it doesn’t rain that are contradictory but perfectly grammatical, and possibly communicatively useful. The reason why this is so is that the latter type of contradictions (the conscious ones) owe their status to the identity of content words (like rain), while subconscious ones owe their status solely to function words (e.g. there are, any).
The present talk articulates this thesis and explores its many and varied consequences for how language works, what aspects of it are innate, and why denotational meaning naturally adheres to human sounds or signs (in sign languages), but not, say, to music.

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