L2 Korean Speakers’ Thematic Role Resolution in a Psych-predicate Construction

Hyunah Ahn 1 ,
Author Information & Copyright
1Seoul National University
Corresponding Author: Lecturer Department of English Language and Literature Seoul National University 1 Gwanakro, Gwanakgu, Seoul 08826, Korea E-mail:

ⓒ Copyright 2020 Language Education Institute, Seoul National University. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Jul 04, 2020 ; Revised: Aug 03, 2020 ; Accepted: Aug 04, 2020

Published Online: Aug 31, 2020


This study investigated how second language (L2) and heritage Korean learners whose first language (L1) is English identify an ambiguous thematic role (experiencer vs. stimulus) of a null argument psych-predicate construction in Korean. Participants listened to stories where a null argument construction such as ‘lwummeituka mwusewun ka poayo’ (∅ must be afraid of the roommate vs. The roommate must be scary) was disambiguated contextually with matching and mismatching prosodies and answered comprehension questions that asked to identify the thematic role of an overt NP. Advanced-level learners were more accurate and faster in identifying a stimulus, preferred Accentual Phrases that accompany the stimulus reading, and showed an interaction between thematic role and prosody. An independent analysis also showed that the preference for stimulus reading could be attributed to the advanced learners being heritage Korean speakers. Hypotheses on different roles of L1 and heritage grammar are discussed in light of the results.

Keywords: null arguments in L2 Korean; psychological predicates; thematic roles; double-nominative construction; discourse syntax interface



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