When Swedes begin to learn German: From V2 to V2

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This article investigates verb placement, especially verb second (V2), in post-puberty L2 learners of two closely related Germanic V2-languages, Swedish and German. Håkansson, Pienemann & Sayehli (2002) have adduced data from L1 Swedish-speaking learners of German in support of the claim that the syntactic property of V2 never transfers from the L1 to L2 interlanguage grammars. Regardless of L1, learners are said to follow a hypothesised universal developmental path of L2 German verb placement, where V2 is mastered very late (only after OV has been acquired), if ever. Explanations include the notion of SVO being a more basic, “canonical” word order (e.g. Clahsen & Muysken 1986), so-called “vulnerability” of the C-domain (Platzack 2001), and “processability”, according to which SVX and Adv-SVX (i.e. V3) are easier to process (i.e. produce) than XVS (i.e. V2) (e.g. Pienemann 1998). However, the empirical data comes exclusively from Swedes learning German as a third language, after substantial exposure to English. When these learners violate V2, syntactic transfer from English, a non-V2 language, cannot be ruled out. In order to control for this potential confound, I compare new oral production data from 6 adult Swedish ab initio learners of German, 3 with prior knowledge of English and 3 without. With an appropriate elicitation method, the informants can be shown to productively use non-subject-initial V2 in their German after 4 months of exposure, at a point when their interlanguage syntax elsewhere is nontargetlike (VO instead of OV). Informants who do not know English never violate V2 (0%), indicating transfer of V2-L1 syntax. Those with prior knowledge of English are less targetlike in their L3-German productions (45% V2 violations), indicating interference from non-V2 English. These results suggest that, contra Håkansson, Pienemann & Sayehli (2002), learners do transfer the property of V2 from their L1, and that L2 knowledge of a non-V2 language (English) may obscure this V2-transfer. The findings also suggest that V2 is not difficult to acquire per se, and that V2 is not developmentally dependent on target headedness of the VP (German OV) having been acquired first.


  • Ute Bohnacker
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Languages and Literature
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)443-486
JournalSecond Language Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: Swedish (015011001)