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Title: Post-critical period age of arrival and its relationship to ultimate attainment in a second language
Author: Rice, Catherine Mary
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1999
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The effect of an individual's age of arrival in the second language community on her ultimate attainment in the target language has come under considerable scrutiny by Second Language Acquisition researchers in the last 25 years. However most research has focussed on comparisons of learners who arrive as children and those who arrive as adults, post-puberty. There is now a compelling body of empirical evidence that the former are much more likely than are adults to reach native levels both of performance (in phonology and syntax) and competence - that is to achieve a mental representation of the second language grammar that matches that of a native speaker. Nevertheless, many cases of successful language learning by adults are attested in the literature. Moreover not only exceptionally talented but also highly proficient adult learners reveal knowledge of the second language that cannot have been arrived at by deductive processes alone: access to the principles and parameters of Universal Grammar is clearly implicated. The purpose of this thesis is to attempt a synthesis of age studies with ultimate attainment studies by investigating the effect of age of arrival on learners' knowledge of English as an L2 after puberty. Studies by Birdsong (1992) and White and Genesee (1996) conclude that there is little or no difference between adult and child intuitions: therefore there is no inevitable barrier to late language acquisition as proposed by the critical period hypothesis. Birdsong (1992) however also suggests that older adults are less likely to achieve native-like competence than younger adults. This study aims to test these conclusions. The results of an experimental study comparing the grammatical intuitions of highly proficient Italian learners of English, both child and adult 'arrivers', and native speakers of English are presented. The results of a Grammaticality Judgement test of knowledge of wh-movement constructions show that adult and child learners can show equally native-like intuitions for invariant Subjacency and the ECP violations. Significant differences between adult and child learners were found only where there is parameterized variation between English and Italian. No differences were found between older and younger adults. It is concluded therefore that adults do have access to UG when acquiring a second language, and that maturational factors only play a secondary role.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available