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The Effect of Pragmatic Factors on the Overpassivization of English Unaccusatives

Author: WangXiaoYing
Tutor: LiSuZhi
School: Henan Normal
Course: Foreign Linguistics and Applied Linguistics
Keywords: Unaccusatives Overpassivization Pragmatic factors
CLC: H319
Type: Master's thesis
Year: 2012
Downloads: 17
Quote: 0
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Burt and Kiparskey (1972) first found that L2learners frequently produce errors like “The World WarⅡ will be happened”,“The car was disappeared”, and later Hubbard (1983) observed that the phenomenonmainly occurred to one of the sub-classes of intransitives, which was called the unaccusatives by Perlmutter(1978) in the Unaccusative Hypothesis. The phenomenon of incorrect passivization of Englishunaccusatives is called overpassivization.Why do L2English learners tend to overpassivize the unaccusatives? In recent years, theoverpassivization phenomenon of unaccusatives receives great attention from the SLA researchers.Interested researchers have accounted for this phenomenon from various perspectives including L1Transfer,Transitivization Hypothesis, and overgeneralization of the English adjectival passive formation, SyntacticPost-verbal NP Movement, the study from lexical-semantic perspective, and the study from pragmaticperspective. Therein, the study from the pragmatic perspective is a new one compared to the otherperspectives. So far, the only researchers whose studies are from the pragmatic perspective are Ju (2000),De Bruin (2005) and Kondo (2005). However, their results are in great controversy as to the impact of thepragmatic factors on the unaccusative overpassivization phenomenon. In order to explain the phenomenonbetter, the present study is intended to explore this issue further.The study aims to scrutinize whether pragmatic factors play a role or not in the overpassivization ofEnglish unaccusatives on part of Chinese learners of English. The subjects of the study are divided intothree proficiency groups: low, intermediate, and advanced. They are administered to a forced-choice taskwhich consists of20unaccusatives and20transitive verbs. The sentences with unaccusative verbs arecorrect only in active voice, whereas the sentences with transitive verbs are correct only in passive voice.For the20unaccusatives, each verb was embedded into two kinds of events (the internal causation and theexternal causation). The sentences with transitive verbs function as a pre-test to examine whether thesubjects have mastered the passive rules or not. In addition, it serves to distract the subjects’ attention.The research findings show that pragmatic factors play a prominent role in the overpassivization ofEnglish unaccusatives. Learners tend to passivize the unaccusatives in the context of the external causation. They are more likely to commit errors with alternating unaccusatives than with non-alternatingunaccusatives. As learners’ proficiency advances, their overpassivization errors will greatly decrease. Thefinding is in contradiction with Unaccusative Trap Hypothesis proposed by Oshita (2000).

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