Basic building blocks and verb drop

In our analysis we remarked repeatedly on participants’ productions that consist of a combination of elements that have a propositional meaning but lack a verb form. Simon, for example, adheres to the SVX pattern at the onset of the study. He produces several constructions with the expletive form ist (‘is’), such as the interrogative in (646). However, in the same narrative, we also found evidence of verbless sequences following the pattern SPrepX (cf. (647)), or question answer pairs with verb drop (cf. (647)).

Cf. also Berent (1996: 650) who remarks on the difficulties of establishing a developmental sequence in such circustances which are, however, common to other learners of a second language in a formal context (see, for example, Diehl et al. 2000: 72 with respect to the acquisition of L2 German by L1 French students in a formal setting).

Christa, Hamida, Muhammed, and Fuad also use elementary SVX structures and sequences in which elements are combined without an overt verb. Verb drop at this early stage of the L2 written German development commonly occurs in constructions that would require the use of the copula. Typically, verbless sequences involve existential “da+X” patterns (cf. example (651). Note, though, that such elementary formats would be unexpected if participants had a command of the target main clause SVX format, which leads us to the question of the origin of target-deviant verb drop. Because DGS knows no copula and “DA X” patterns are target-like in that language one possible assumption would be that copula drop in the written German narratives results from DGS borrowing.

In our view, caution is due in the interpretation of the phenomenon as a candidate for language mixing. One crucial point pertains to the nature of the participants’ learner grammar at this stage. Based on the diagnostic criteria established in section 4.5.4, learner grammars at this stage, characterised by the absence of evidence for verb raising and the finiteness distinction, are best described as VP grammars. In other words, from a structure-building perspective, the production of SVX patterns cannot (and should not) be equated with the attainment of the main clause structure. Copula drop at the VP stage comes as no surprise given that elements at this stage are optionally realised. It is indeed a common phenomenon in early productions of learners in other acquisition situations. Examples of L1 (649) (Tracy 1991: 156) and L2 learners of German in a formal setting (650) (Diehl et al. 2000: 75) strike us in their similarity to example (651), produced by Fuad in file 1. Verb drop in hypotactic combinations of several propositions, however, represent potential candidates for language mixing, as is explained in the following section.

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