Poverty-of-the-stimulus and SLA epistemology: considering L2 knowledge of aspectual phrasal semantics

Jason Rothman, Michael Iverson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Coupling a review of previous studies on the acquisition of grammatical aspects undertaken from contrasting paradigmatic views of second language acquisition (SLA) with new experimental data from L2 Portuguese, the present study contributes to this specific literature as well as general debates in L2 epistemology. We tested 31 adult English learners of L2 Portuguese across three experiments, examining the extent to which they had acquired the syntax and (subtle) semantics of grammatical aspect. Demonstrating that many individuals acquired target knowledge of what we contend is a poverty-of-the-stimulus semantic entailment related to the checking of aspectual features encoded in Portuguese preterit and imperfect morphology (see also Goodin-Mayeda and Rothman (2007), Montrul and Slabakova (2003), Slabakova and Montrul (2003)), namely, a [±accidental] distinction that obtains in a restricted subset of contexts, we conclude that UG-based approaches to SLA are in a better position to tap and gauge underlying morphosyntactic competence, since based on independent theoretical linguistic descriptions, they make falsifiable predictions that are amenable to empirical scrutiny, seek to describe and explain beyond performance, and can account for L2 convergence on poverty-of-the-stimulus knowledge as well as L2 variability/optionality (e.g., Lardiere (2007), Prevost and White (2000), Goad and White (2006), Slabakova (2008)).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)270-314
Number of pages45
JournalLanguage Acquisition
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


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