The acquisition of English ergative verbs by Turkish EFL students
Tannacito, Dan J.
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The purpose of the study was to investigate the acquisition of English ergative verbs by Turkish EFL students. In contrast with transitive and intransitive verbs, these verbs can form both grammatically correct passive and intransitive ergative constructions. Generative grammar predicts that in the process of acquiring ergative verbs, learners will prefer to use passive constructions to intransitive ergative ones (Zobl, 1989). The study investigated five research questions and tested nine hypotheses. The research questions considered the difference a) in the overall amount of incorrect judgments about ergative verbs; b) in the amount of incorrect judgments about ergative structures of ergative verbs; c) in the amount of incorrect judgments about ergative versus passive structures of ergative verbs; and d) in the amount of errors in the test sentences with ergative verbs, at three EFL proficiency levels'. One more question studied in the present research was whether the Turkish learners would be able to discriminate between English ergative, intransitive, and transitive verbs. This study is a descriptive study conducted in an experimental setting. Special research instruments were devised to elicit ergative data — a grammaticality judgment task and a production task. The performance of subjects at experimental tasks was compared against language proficiency levels created in accordance with the results of two sections of the Michigan Test of English Language Proficiency. The results of the experimental tasks were analyzed using statistical procedures — Kruskal-Wallis One Way Analysis of Variance and repeated-measures t-test. Analyses showed significant differences between proficiency levels in the overall number of incorrect judgments about ergative verbs and about full ergative structure of ergative verbs (e.g., The window broke into small pieces). However, the difference in the number of incorrect judgments about cut ergative structure (e.g.. The window broke) and in the number of errors in the test sentences with ergative verbs was not statistically significant. The repeated-measures t-test indicated that at the low and mid levels the difference in the number of incorrect judgments about full ergative and passive structures of ergative verbs was statistically significant whereas at the high level this difference was not significant. The analysis of data also showed great variations in the acc[uisition of different verbal structures of acquisition of ergative^ transitive, and intransitive verbs. The results obtained in the present research confirmed the main findings reported in the literature on the acquisition of ergative verbs (Zobl, 1989), i.e., that the learners will overgeneralize the passive rule to ergatives.