Word Order variation in L1 and L2 Italian speakers: the role of Focus and the Unaccusativity Hierarchy


  • Caterina Tasinato University of Padova
  • Emanuela Sanfelici


This paper investigates the Italian Word Order variation in the position of subjects (S) with respect to finite predicates (V) in two adult populations: L1-Italian speakers and L1-French L2-Italian speakers. We test how discourse focus (Belletti, 2001) and a decomposed approach to Unaccusativity, i.e., Unaccusativity Hierarchy (Sorace, 2000), determine the SV/VS variation in L1 and L2 populations. The results of a forced-choice preference task show that both factors constrain the Italian word order in L1 and L2 Italian speakers: the VS order was preferred in the narrow focus and with Change of Location unaccusative verbs in both populations, although with different proportions. Overall L2 speakers chose the SV order more consistently than L1 speakers but they did so mainly with the less-core unaccusative verbs of the Unaccusativity Hierarchy. We account for these findings suggesting a return to the original version of the Interface Hypothesis (Sorace, 2005), which predicts that interface phenomena, including those at the syntax-lexicon interface, represent a vulnerable domain in L2 acquisition.


Adult L2 acquisition, Focus, Unaccusativity hierarchy, Word order variation, Italian, French, Interface hypothesis, Lexical semantics


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