Second Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar

Second Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar

Second Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar

Second Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar

Synopsis

This authoritative textbook is an overview and analysis of current second language acquisition research, conducted within the generative linguistic framework. It argues for a role for Universal Grammar in second language acquisition. Theories as to the role of Universal Grammar and the extent of language transfer are presented along with relevant empirical research. Properties of early developmental stage grammars are examined, as well as the nature of the final outcome of the acquisition process.

Excerpt

This book examines the extent to which the underlying linguistic competence of learners or speakers of a second language (L2) is constrained by the same universal principles that govern natural language in general. It is presupposed that there is an innately given Universal Grammar (UG), which constrains first language (L1) grammars, placing limits on the kinds of hypotheses that L1 acquirers entertain as to the nature of the language that they are acquiring. Assuming the correctness of this general approach, the question arises as to whether UG constrains grammars in non-primary language acquisition as well. This book will present and discuss research which investigates whether or not interlanguage grammars can be characterized in terms of principles and parameters of UG, and which explores the nature of interlanguage competence during the course of L2 acquisition, from the initial state onwards. It is hoped that the book will provide sufficient background for the reader to understand current research conducted within the framework of UG and L2 acquisition.

The generative perspective on L2 acquisition is sometimes dismissed because it has a rather circumscribed goal, namely to describe and explain the nature of interlanguage competence, defined in a technical and limited sense. Researchers whose work is discussed in this book do not seek to provide an all encompassing theory of L2 acquisition, or to account the role of performance factors, psychological processes and mechanisms, sociolinguistic variables, etc. In fact, it is doubtful whether there is any one theory that can achieve all this; certainly, no theory has succeeded so far.

It will be presupposed that the reader has some familiarity with the concepts and mechanisms assumed in current generative grammar, including the Government and Binding framework and Minimalism. The book will not be concerned with the precise technical details as to how UG principles and parameters are formulated, nor with the intricacies of current linguistic theory. Indeed, the intention is to consider the L2 issues without being tied down to a particular version of generative theory. The linguistic principles and parameters that will be discussed are those that have attracted attention in the L2 field. Out of context, these principles may sometimes seem ad hoc. It is important to understand that they are part of a system . . .

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