Pro-drop parameter is such a parameter for whether the declarative sentence in universal grammar can omit the subject. It is also known as null subject parameter, non-subject parameter. The so-called “pro-drop” phenomenon refers to the subject can be deleted in the declarative sentence (White, 1986). The pro-drop parameter (null subject parameter) proposed is based on the phenomenon of omitted subject pronouns in some language. The empty synonymous is commonly known as pro, the language of the subject can be omitted due to the pro appears only in subject position, or the language with no main statement can be called as pro-drop language. Whether the subject can be omitted constitutes a parameter in universal grammar, known as pro-drop parameter. Pro-drop parameter is a universal grammar parameter which is the most discussed (Chomsky and Lasnik, 1991). It is an important parameter to examine the second language acquisition effect in the study of the second language learning.
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Pro-drop parameter assumption studies the adult null subject phenomenon to show the object-drop in the children’s language, the basic premise of the theory is for the most grammar provides null subject parameter for language learners (White, 1986). This default parameter allows null subject, so only when the child’s language environment provides them with clear evidence to prove their language cannot be null subject, it will lead them to reset the parameters.
Different languages â€‹â€‹have different pro-drop parameter values, that is, to determine whether the declarative sentence can omit the subject. Chomsky (2000) argues that the sentence has two levels, one is the deep structure (d-structure) to express the sentence vocabulary meaning, it is the concept structure in the brain before the people to talk; the other is the shallow structure (s -structure) to express the moving relationship of sentence elements, it is the sound people speak. Principles and parameters theory claims that empty synonymous pro only appears in d-structure, and does not appear in s-structure (Ouhalla, 2000). In the d-structure of the implied subject sentence, the subject is existed, invisible pro is taken as the subject, the main word syntactic component does not disappear, and it is still present in the speech’s heart and brain syntax with “psychological reality.” In the s-structure of the implied subject, the subject is existed in the form of “null”, the subject form of this “null” is called pro. It knows that the pro is implied in s-structure.
Although many studies have tried to explain second language learners like children acquisition native-like to set the open parameters, since the early 1980s, people found that the initial stage of the second language learners will transfer the parameters set in mother tongue (Gass and Schachter, 1989; Lydia, 1989, 1991). Here, taking the implied pro parameters for illustration here carries out a brief description of the similarities and differences in setting of this parameter in the native language. In addition, it will also explain the potential advantages are of the assumption there is a pro drop parameter.
In children’s brain, the setting of the language parameter can be considered a switch: children adjust each parameter value according to their heard language material. Chomsky (2000) suggests that the transition from the initial state to a stable state is actually the process of setting switch direction (Cook and Newson, 2000, pp.110). Acquisition of English syntax means setting the all parameters in universal grammar according to the English habit, and the parameter settings are activated relying on linguistic evidence. Usually there are three linguistic â€‹â€‹instances: positive evidence, direct negative evidence and indirect negative evidence. Positive evidence refers to the language heard by children. The linguistic instance heard by British children enables them to find English is a non-implicit pro parameter language. Spanish children will find that Spanish is the implicit pro parameter language. Direct negative evidence, also known as direct correction, is directly from the adult corrections. However, the direct correction is limited. Even if corrected directly, children also tend to ignore, thus the direct correction cannot be the main source for the children to obtain the language skills. Indirect negative evidence is such a language form for the children cannot hear. British children are impossible to hear such as “Sits.” statement, or reversed predicate word order, such as “Sits he.” So, some studies suggest that the indirect negative instance contributes to the setting of parameters. Hyams (1981) specifically studied the implicit pro parameter setting in the native language acquisition. She found that the British children could speak many sentences without subject like the Spanish, such as: “Play it.” Or “No go in”. At the same time, in their language they will leave the words such as ‘it’ and ‘there’. Gradually, they began to understand that the English needs the lexical subject and added the function words ‘it’ and ‘there’ in sentences. While the Spanish children in the beginning thought that Spanish is the language of the implicit parameter, and does not need to change. Hyams (1981) believes that in the acquisition of the mother tongue, the children regard the implied pro parameters as a default, it is, regardless of their language, always speak the sentences without subject, the children eventually found the parameter values â€‹â€‹from the positive evidence. Non-implied pro parameters language English uses impersonal Indefinite pronoun ‘it’ in the sentences expressing weather: “It’s raining.” In the presence of the sentence, ‘there’ is used: “Once upon a time, there were three bears.” The emergence of expletive subject makes the British children were aware of the English is a non-implied subject language. Cook (2000: 90) argued that the basis for the universal grammar to explain language acquisition lies in the positive evidence plays a key role. Children are mainly from the positive evidence rather than negative evidence to acquisition of the mother tongue.
According to the universal grammar, the mother tongue acquisition process is language input – principles and parameters – native language syntax, and then whether the process of second language acquisition is the second language input – principles and parameters – second language syntax? It is found that: 1) the second language learners’ language knowledge is not enough, and the vast majority of people cannot achieve the equivalent level of mother tongue; 2) for children, the difficulty of acquisition of any language is the same, as long as language input, any language can perfectly be of acquisition. For second language learning, the situation is not the case, such as the native English people is much easier learning French than learning Chinese; 3) the development of the second language tends to occur fossilization phenomenon at some stage; 4) the second language learners ultimately achieve different levels of the language, their learning methods are also different (Towell and Hawkins, 1994). Therefore, we have reason to believe that second language learners indirectly used the universal grammar through the knowledge of the mother tongue. They took the parameter field of their native language as a starting point, gradually shifted the parameter field of the second language, and the essence is transfer. People conducted a large number of researches on the mother tongue as the second language acquisition of the implied subject or non-implied subject.
The purpose for the study by White (1986) is to investigate whether the foreign students are influenced by the mother tongue parameter values in setting of the non-implied pro parameter values of English. The objects of study include two sets of intermediate English level of students: one group is 37 French students, and the other group is 32 Spanish students and 2 Italian students. French and English are the language of non-implied pro parameter, that is, to select a negative value in the subject parameter omitted, while the Spanish and Italian select a positive value. The two groups of subjects receive the test of English grammar judgment and conversion questions. The results showed that the Spanish and Italian students are easy to mistakenly accept the English sentences which omitted the subject. French students are rare to wrongly accept the English sentences which omitted the subject.
Phinney (1987) carried out the bidirectional test to study the parameter settings. The subjects include the Spanish students learning English and the British students learning Spanish. By analyzing the composition of their foreign language, Phinney draw two important results: first the British students learning Spanish can correctly use the Spanish sentences which omitted the subject, and will not be wrongly used the filled subject; Second, the Spanish students learning English can easy to wrongly use the omitted subject pronoun in clause and the filled subject in English.
The objects of the study by Liceras (1989) are the students learning Spanish, including 2 French students and 32 British students. She found that even primary level of Spanish students correctly judged incorrectly filled subject of Spanish sentences, and can understand Spanish can omit the subject. While the students with advanced Spanish level performed even better.
We can draw from the above empirical studies that the pro-drop parameter settings in foreign language acquisition are summarized as follows:
1) When the implicit pro parameter values of mother tongue and foreign language â€‹â€‹are the same, the mother tongue can facilitate the acquisition of foreign language. English and French must not omit the subject, the French students in acquisition of English are rarely false acceptance subject of English sentences, native parameter values â€‹â€‹take place the positive transfer;
2) A non-native language is non-implicit pro parameter language, that is, the selected parameter value is negative, while the foreign language is an implicit pro parameter language, that is, the selected parameter value is positive, the mother tongue parameter values â€‹â€‹will be negative transfer to the foreign language learning, but the effect is temporary, and the re-setting of the parameter values is not very difficult;
3) The mother tongue selected the positive value of subject omitted parameter, and the foreign language selected the negative value of subject parameter; the mother tongue will produce more lasting negative impact on foreign language learning, while the foreign language learning is prone to be rigid.
However, it should be noted that studying from the view of the theory of universal grammar is bound to focus on access to knowledge in grammar, in particular the acquisition of knowledge of the syntactic structure. The limitations of the universal grammar theory prevent people to examine the language use level. This is because, according to Chomsky’s (2000) views, language behavior is the actual use of these rules by a person listens to or speaks, that is also called as the language ability and performance. Language behavior is just an indirect and incomplete reflection on the language skills, which is often influenced by many factors and does not reflect the true language ability, it is hard to be through language skills or language behavior performance to understand the language ability, the study of language should point directly to the language ability of dominant language behavior (Yip, 1989). Therefore, the scope of pro-drop parameter assumption is only limited to the acquisition of language structure, namely the establishment of parameters, which shows a very micro level, many of the indicators associated with the second language learning are unable to insight.
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In addition, linguists Fillmore (1991) argued that universal grammar and general cognitive mechanisms are associated with second language acquisition. In the acquisition process of second language, the role of universal grammar cannot be ignored, but the second language learning is different from the native language acquisition. With young children grew older, general cognitive ability and strategy increasingly play a more important role compared to UG. From psychology, especially psycholinguistic perspective to explore children’s second language learning may well be another important avenue of research. Thus, the single perspective of study makes people get the above conclusions, multi-angle and multi-channel study will receive more comprehensive and objective conclusions and will get more in-depth, substantive understanding of English education mode.
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