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Regular version of the site

Article

Between syntax and discourse: Topic and case marking in heritage speakers and L2 learners of Japanese and Korean

Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism. 2016. Vol. 6. No. 4. P. 396-439.
Polinsky M., Laleko O.

This article examines the knowledge of topic and subject particles in heritage speakers and L2 
learners of Japanese and Korean. We assume that topic marking is mediated at the syntax-
information structure interface, while subject marking pertains to narrow syntax. In comparing 
phenomena mediated at different levels of linguistic organization, we provide evidence for the 
hypothesis that information structure-level phenomena present greater challenges for bilingual 
speakers than those mediated within syntax. While these results may be interpreted as evidence 
of generalized interface-related deficits, we show that such a global explanation is not supported. 
Instead, a more nuanced account is developed, based on the recognition of different types of 
topic (anaphoric, generic, and contrastive) and different types of subject (descriptive and 
exhaustive). Under the proposed account, the non-native speakers’ deficits follow from three 
unrelated effects: the status of topic as an interface category, structural complexity,  
and the memory demands necessary for its interpretation in context.