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Article

Silence is difficult: On missing elements in bilingual grammars

Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft. 2017. No. 36. P. 135-163.
Laleko O., Polinsky M.

Near-native speakers (heritage speakers and adult second language learners alike) experience difficulty in interpreting and producing linguistic constructions that contain morphologically null elements. We dub this phenomenon the Silent Problem. The bulk of literature on the Silent Problem in near-native speakers has concentrated on the identification and interpretation of null pronominals. In this paper we expand our understanding of the Silent Problem in three ways. First, we show that the range of the problem extends well beyond the grammar of null pronominals. Second, we argue that the various manifestations of the Silent Problem all follow from a typical aspect of near-native grammars: difficulty in recovering missing elements that have discourse antecedents. Third, although heritage and second language speakers show similar difficulties in the recovery of discourse-licensed silent elements, the two speaker populations differ in their evaluation of zero-marked forms in contrastive contexts. We account for this difference by the fact that heritage speakers differ from second language speakers in the comprehension of contrastive material. This comprehension requires good control of the interface between syntax and information structure (including prosodic knowledge), and heritage speakers have an advantage over second language learners in that area.