This paper investigates Arabs’ acquisition of English restrictive relative clauses with special focus on resumptive pronouns. There are two primary aims of this study: 1- to investigate resumptive pronouns in light of Keenan and Comrie’s (1977) Noun Phrase Accessibility Hierarchy, 2- to study whether Arab learners are able to acquire the gap strategy, the alternative strategy of resumptive pronouns, in English restrictive relative clauses. Regarding the first aim, we examine the hypothesis of the Noun Phrase Accessibility Hierarchy which predicts that resumptive pronouns are universal phenomena which occur increasingly in the least accessible positions on the hierarchy to facilitate second language acquisition of relative clauses and the hypothesis of L1 transfer which suggests that resumptive pronouns in Arabs’ acquisition of English restrictive relative clauses are resulted from L1 transfer. With respect to the second aim, we follow Hawkins and Chan (1997) and study Arabs’ acquisition of English restrictive relative clauses that involve island and non-island structures to test whether they are able to acquire the surface structure that involves gaps and the underlying structure that involves a wh-movement. To achieve the two aims of the study, a grammaticality judgment task was conducted to adult Arab learners of English. Results indicate that resumptive pronouns in Arabs’ acquisition of English restrictive relative clauses are resulted from L1 transfer and do not follow the predicted order of the Noun Phrase Accessibility Hierarchy. Furthermore, the results suggest that Arab learners are able to acquire the gap strategy of English restrictive relative clauses which underlies a wh-movement structure. These findings differ from Hawkins and Chan’s (1977) in which they argue for the Failed Functional Feature Hypothesis that suggests that adult L2 learners are not able to acquire the new feature that is not transferable from their L1 grammar; but the results are broadly consistent with the Full Transfer Full Access Theory (Schwartz and Sprouse, 1994) which suggests that adult L2 learners are able to acquire new features that are not available in their L1 grammar.
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