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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 January 2003

Robert M. DeKeyser
University of Pittsburgh
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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.

Research Article
2000 Cambridge University Press