Language Background and the Realization of the Information Structure Constraints on English Ditransitive Constructions: Evidence from Monolingual and Bilingual Speakers
Previous research has shown that the type of ditransitive sentence preferred by English speakers in a particular linguistic context is significantly influenced by the relative ‘givenness’ of the post verbal arguments (i.e. the assumption that the referent of a linguistic expression is known to the speaker/hearer). This ‘givenness constraint’ has also been shown to play a role in the ditransitive sentence preferences of bilingual English speakers. Some have claimed that the realization of the givenness constraint in the ditransitive sentence preferences of bilingual English speakers is significantly influenced by the characteristics of their dominant language; however, no studies that I am aware of have explicitly compared the preferences of speakers whose dominant languages feature different sets of ditransitive sentence types, making this claim difficult to evaluate. Additionally, the effects of task type (i.e. the experimental task(s) employed by a particular study), and variables related to speakers’ experience with English and English proficiency, relative to language background are unclear. This study attempts to clarify the role of language background in the realization of the givenness constraint by recruiting three groups of English speakers: German-English bilingual speakers living in Germany, Spanish-English bilingual speakers living in Mexico, and monolingual English speakers living in the United States. The three groups completed three tasks, all of which were administered over the internet: a scalar acceptability judgement task, a forced choice task, and a self-paced reading task. The results from the two bilingual groups showed significant effects of language background, even after factors related to English proficiency and English experience were taken into account. The results support an interpretation where language background plays a significant role in the realization of the givenness constraint on bilingual speakers’ ditransitive sentence preferences.