THE ACCESSIBILITY HIERARCHY OF RELATIVIZATION IN SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION
The accessibility hierarchy of relativization (Keenan and Comrie 1977) describes the restrictions that the grammar of a language imposes on the relativizability of clause and phrase constituents. This paper explores the applicability and validity of the accessibility hierarchy in second language acquisition and production. It has been noticed that even Danes who are fairly proficient in English (university students) seem to have difficulties with relativizing possessors despite the fact that Danish has the exact same rules for relativization as English. All the elements listed in Keenan and Comrie’s hierarchy can be relativized, and several of the relativizers in the two languages are cognates. On the one hand, the apparent difficulties of Danes defy common sense and theories on contrastivity and cross-linguistic influence (Ellis 2009, 2012, Jarvis 2011, Lado 1957), according to which Danes should not have problems with the formation of English relative clauses. On the other hand, they lend the accessibility hypothesis support since Danes seem to be challenged by the relativization of constituents that are low on the accessibility hierarchy, suggesting that the hierarchy is not only relevant for the static differences between language systems, but also for the dynamic interlanguage of language learners (Selinker 1972). This study investigates the nature of the abovementioned difficulties and attempts to place the accessibility hierarchy subsequently in the context of second language acquisition by analysing several types of data stemming from Danish students studying English Business Communication. Essays and summaries in English, translations from Danish into English and vice versa, as well as gap-filling tests and tests concerning the construction of relative clauses by merging independent clauses both in English and Danish are analysed.
International Burch University