¿Qué compró Juan? or ¿Qué Juan compró? Dutch native speakers acquiring Spanish subject-verb inversion in Wh-questions

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This study examines the L2 acquisition of Spanish subject-verb inversion in whquestions on Dutch native speakers. In Spanish, subject-verb inversion occurs in matrix and embedded wh-questions. However, the fact that it is obligatory is determined by the argument vs. adjunct status of the wh-element (Suñer, 1994; Torrego, 1984, among others). Interestingly, Dutch also has subject-verb inversion, yet this operation is only obligatory in matrix clauses and is not subject to argumental restrictions. Therefore, the two main differences between these languages are: in matrix interrogative clauses there is always subject-verb inversion in Dutch, independently of whether the fronted wh-element is an argument or an adjunct; the second difference comes from the fact that Dutch is a V2 language and Spanish is not: in Dutch subject-verb inversion only occurs in matrix clauses never in embedded ones, while in Spanish with argument wh- questions the main verb must always appear before the subject in both types of clauses. Given the fact that this contrast between these languages is never explicitly addressed in the classroom context, it is particularly interesting, from an acquisition point of view, to determine how L2 learners acquire these rules and where they may encounter difficulties in their application. The empirical basis of this study comes from an experiment offered to a total of 46 participants: 13 advanced and 20 beginners L2 learners and a control group of 13 Spanish native speakers who were all tested on a Bimodal Grammaticality Judgment Task (timed) and a Dehydrated Task. The statistic results (ANOVA) from the Bimodal GJT show that there is a significant difference in performance between the Spanish control group and both L2 groups: F (2, 2184) = 8,967, p < .001.With argumental wh- words, both L2 groups fail to detect the ungrammaticality of non-inversion in embedded wh- questions and, surprisingly, they also do so in matrix interrogatives. Beginners also fail to judge the grammaticality of inverted embedded wh-questions. Moreover, there is a significant variability in the preference for inversion with the different wh- words, being ‘Por qué’ the odd one out among the adjuncts. In sum, even though the L2 learners improve their performance with proficiency, they do keep persistent problems with Spanish subjectverb inversion in interrogatives. These results are in line with previous studies with different L1s which have shown that acquisition of this construction is problematic even for advanced learners and heritage speakers (Goodall, 2004; Guijarro & Larrañaga, 2011; Cuza, 2012 among others). The acquisition path that the L2s seem to be following along with the theoretical implications of these results will be discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sept 2014
Event24th European Second Language Association (Eurosla24) - University of York, York, United Kingdom
Duration: 3 Sept 20146 Sept 2014


Conference24th European Second Language Association (Eurosla24)
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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