PhD student Sascha Stollhans is giving a Langwidge Sandwidge talk

Posted on April 25, 2017 by

At the next edition of the Langwidge Sandwidge lunch talks, one of LEL’s PhD students will present his ongoing research. On Tuesday, May 2, Sascha Stollhans will be talking about Competing grammars: generic article selection in L1 English/L2 French/L3 German.

The event details are as follows:

Room Booked: University Place room 6.207
Date(s): Tuesday 2 May, 2017
Time: 1pm – 2pm

In addition to the ‘food for thought’, there will be some lunch snacks and drinks for all attendees. We look forward to seeing you there!

Competing grammars: generic article selection in L1 English/L2 French/L3 German

 Sascha Stollhans 

(The University of Manchester)


My PhD project, supervised by Prof. Maj-Britt Mosegaard Hansen and Dr Julio Villa-García, and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, focuses on cross-linguistic influence in third language acquisition. Specifically it is concerned with the acquisition of generics in L3 German by L1 English/L2 French speakers.

Loosely speaking, generics refer to kinds, groups, collectives rather than individuals, and express general properties. Traditionally, two types of generics have been distinguished (Krifka et al. 1995): kind-referring NPs (1), and characterising/generic sentences (2):

(1)        Dodos are extinct.

(2)        Academics are boring.

Languages tend to have more than one formal way to construct generics, and genericity is typically not unambiguously encoded. In terms of article selection, English plural NPs (3) and mass singular NPs (4) usually need to be bare to allow for generic interpretation. French, on the other hand, requires the definite article, which is ambiguous between genericity and specificity. For German, some authors claim a certain degree of variability (e. g. Schaden 2013), but generally, a strong tendency towards bare plural NPs is attested in different types of generic sentences (Barton et al. 2015):

(3)        a. (#The) lions have manes.

  1. *(Les) lions ont des crinières.
  2. (#Die) Löwen haben Mähnen.

(4)        a. Peter likes (#the) tea.

  1. Pierre aime *(le) thé.
  2. Peter mag (#den) Tee.

(I use # to denote that a generic reading is less favourable than a specific reading.)

This talk will consist of two parts: In the first half, I will provide a brief cross-linguistic analysis of generics in Germanic and Romance languages, with a particular focus on English, German and French. My discussion will include a number of factors that may play a role in creating and interpreting generic meaning, such as definiteness and specificity, aspect and discourse context. After a brief overview of existing accounts of generics, I will sketch a working proposal which sees generics as an interface phenomenon, involving a genericity-licensing predicate and a pragmatic context which prevents the hearer from assigning specific reference. In doing so, I will discuss some initial ideas for an analysis touching on relevance theory (Sperber and Wilson 1986, ²1995) and pragmatic slack (Lasersohn 1999).

In the second half, I will discuss previously proposed L3 acquisition models, which make predictions about the source and conditions of potential cross-linguistic influence. I will conclude by presenting my preliminary study design for an eye-tracking experiment and a forced choice elicitation task, involving three groups of participants: L1 English/L2 French speakers of L3 German, L1 English speakers of L2 German, and an L1 German control group. As for the potential results, I will outline different scenarios and their implications for existing L3 acquisition models, taking into account the underlying research question: Is L2 French a source of transfer in the acquisition of generic article selection by L1 English speakers of L3 German?

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