Research Methodology in Second-Language Acquisition

By Elaine E. Tarone; Susan M. Gass et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
THE COMPETENCE--PERFORMANCE ISSUE IN SECOND-LANGUAGE ACQUISITION THEORY: A DEBATE

Fred R. Eckman University of Wisconsin--Milwaukee

One of the ways in which a discipline advances is through scholarly debate. When the proponents of different sides of an issue can confront each other with proposals, critiques, and counterproposals, it is possible to highlight the distinctions among the positions and to focus on the facts and argumentation that would decide the issue one way or the other. And out of such debate distills progress.

However, not all scholarly debates are worthwhile. Occasionally, issues that should be decided on empirical grounds are debated on a priori considerations that have no bearing on the matter. Such debates, rather than advancing the field, have the opposite effect: Time and energy that should be applied to data gathering and analysis are expended instead in advancing and parrying arguments.

This chapter argues that there is such a debate currently going on in the field of second-language acquisition (SLA) theory, and that the two sides involved in this discussion should cease immediately and get on with the job of theorizing about SLA. I attempt to show that the issue in question is an empirical one, that it is not being addressed on empirical grounds, and that it cannot be decided on the basis of the arguments that are currently being advanced.

The debate in question centers around whether the proper domain for a theory of SLA should be the abstract linguistic competence of the L2 learner, or alternatively, whether the domain should incorporate within-speaker variation. On one side of the issue, Gregg ( 1989, 1990) argued that the lin-

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