On knowledge and development of unaccusativity in Spanish L2 acquisition

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Many studies have reported that L2 learners have persistent problems with unaccusative verbs in English, Japanese, Italian, French, and Chinese. Oshita (2001) proposed the “unaccusative trap hypothesis” (UTH) to account for the observed developmental trends crosslinguistically. According to the UTH, initially, L2 learners assume that all intransitive verbs are unergatives. At intermediate and advanced stages, learners realize that unaccusative and unergative verbs have different representations, and typical errors become common. Depending on the robustness of the target language input, advanced L2 learners may or may not reach native-like knowledge. This study tested the UTH with 71 English-speaking learners of Spanish of advanced, intermediate, and low-intermediate proficiency using a grammaticality judgment task. Results partially support the UTH: The lower proficiency group did not discriminate between unaccusatives and unergatives in most constructions; intermediate learners distinguished between unaccusatives and unergatives with most constructions, but also incorrectly accepted passives with unergative verbs, while advanced learners behaved like the native speakers. Analysis by semantic subclasses of unaccusative and unergative verbs indicated that the low level learners were not sensitive to lexical semantics either. Such sensitivity appears to emerge at the intermediate level, a result that lends further empirical support to Sorace's (2000) “unaccusativity hierarchy”.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1153-1190
Number of pages38
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 26 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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