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A Look at a New Classic

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Title:A Look at a New Classic
Authors:Eubank, Lynn
Contributors:University of Hawaii at Manoa. Department of English as a Second Language. (department)
Date Issued:1989
Abstract:A number of recent studies have focused on the question of the availability of Universal Grammar (UG) to the adult second-language (L2) learner. Some of these studies have considered developmental phenomena, and their authors have often come to opposite conclusions with regard to the acquisition of grammatical competence. For instance, Clahsen and Muysken (1986) argue that learners utilize only general processing strategies in their acquisition of an L2 while du Plessis, Solin, Travis & White (1987) insist that UG constrains L2 as well as L1 learning. Other studies have utilized grammaticality judgments by adult speakers of an L2 as a basis for analysis. Felix (1988) and Bley-Vroman, Felix & Ioup (1988) suggest-in one way or another-that UG may indeed constrain L2 grammars. In contrast, Jacquelyn Schachter's ''Testing a Proposed Universal" (in press) appears to suggest the opposite, namely, that UG is no longer accessible to the adult, non-native speaker. What will be argued in this paper, however, is that Schachter's results, seen from the perspective of somewhat more recent linguistic theory, may be amenable to an interpretation that is consistent with adult access to UG.
The discussion will begin with a short review of Schachter's study, which focuses especially on a principle of UG known as subjacency. The results of Schachter's study do not indicate that subjacency is available to adult nonnative speakers: Her subjects judged as grammatical a good number of sentences that appear to violate the principle of subjacency. What is of more interest is that Schachter's native-speaking controls also appear not to have access to subjacency on some test sentences, for they also judged as grammatical certain sentences that violate subjacency. The remainder of the paper is concerned with explaining the judgments of Schachter's native-speaking controls and, proceeding cautiously, those of her Korean-speaking subjects. First, we examine the principle of subjacency itself. The discussion will focus on the ''barriers" reformulation of Chomsky 1986. Of particular relevance here are the types of variation that might be expected under the reformulation-both between individual speakers and between languages. After reviewing the reformulation of subjacency, we return to the judgments of Schachter's Korean-speaking subjects and her English-speaking controls. Here we show that an alternative explanation can be provided, one which does not suggest the unavailability of UG.
Pages/Duration:25 pages
Appears in Collections: Working Papers (1982-2000)

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