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THE ROBUSTNESS OF CRITICAL PERIOD EFFECTS IN SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION

  • Robert M. DeKeyser (a1)
    • Published online: 01 January 2003
Abstract

This study was designed to test the Fundamental Difference Hypothesis (Bley-Vroman, 1988), which states that, whereas children are known to learn language almost completely through (implicit) domain-specific mechanisms, adults have largely lost the ability to learn a language without reflecting on its structure and have to use alternative mechanisms, drawing especially on their problem-solving capacities, to learn a second language. The hypothesis implies that only adults with a high level of verbal analytical ability will reach near-native competence in their second language, but that this ability will not be a significant predictor of success for childhood second language acquisition. A study with 57 adult Hungarian-speaking immigrants confirmed the hypothesis in the sense that very few adult immigrants scored within the range of child arrivals on a grammaticality judgment test, and that the few who did had high levels of verbal analytical ability; this ability was not a significant predictor for childhood arrivals. This study replicates the findings of Johnson and Newport (1989) and provides an explanation for the apparent exceptions in their study. These findings lead to a reconceptualization of the Critical Period Hypothesis: If the scope of this hypothesis is limited to implicit learning mechanisms, then it appears that there may be no exceptions to the age effects that the hypothesis seeks to explain.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to: Robert M. DeKeyser, Department of Linguistics, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260; e-mail: RDK1@pitt.edu.
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Studies in Second Language Acquisition
  • ISSN: 0272-2631
  • EISSN: 1470-1545
  • URL: /core/journals/studies-in-second-language-acquisition
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