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Second language acquisition and the role of universal grammar

Term Paper 2011 18 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics

Excerpt

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 The Idea of Universal Grammar
2.1 Introducing Universal Grammar
2.2 Linguistic competence and performance
2.3 Poverty-of-the Stimulus Argument
2.3.1 Deficient Input
2.4 Language faculty
2.5 Principles and Parameters

3 Universal Grammar (UG) in Second Language Acquisition (SLA)
3.1 Initial State
3.2 Interlanguage
3.3 Final State
3.4 L1 and L2 comparison
3.5 Major Positions
3.5.1 Full transfer/no access
3.5.2 Partial transfer/no access
3.5.3 Full transfer/partial access
3.5.4 Partial transfer/full access
3.5.5 Full transfer/Full access
3.5.6 No transfer/Full access
3.5.7 Partial transfer/partial access

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography

1 Introduction

This term paper, deals primarily with Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and the role of Universal Grammar (UG) within the scope of the on-going language acquisition process. The Universal Grammar approach is an issue which is often discussed within linguistic studies. However, the positions about this theory are highly dispersed. This is not only a problem of SLA; the problem also exists in studies of First Language Acquisition (FLA). Hence, on the one hand the Universal Grammar approach is often seen as not verified but on the other hand it is also believed to be the only solution to the question of how language is acquired. This term paper describes different point of views of UG and its role in the Second Language Acquisition process. The main question in this term paper is: “Does UG play a role in SLA and if it does, what kind of role is it likely to play?” Further, this paper discusses whether UG only influences SLA or if the first language regulates the acquisition of a second language. Some scientists argue that there is no UG in language acquisition at all; others claim that UG is does not exist in SLA. Finally, there are numerous ideas on this topic and all of them show evidence, some are more, some are less convincing. Unfortunately, it goes beyond the scope of this term paper to state all the different aspects of research, all the data and experiments regarding UG and SLA. However, this work describes some of the fundamental views of how UG plays a role in SLA. Additionally, it shows what kind of influence of FLA may be possible on the process of SLA. To first get an overview over the topic, the paper starts with the idea of the Universal Grammar (in FLA), before we will tie in with Universal Grammar in SLA. The main part of this term paper is the role of UG in SLA. Through the discussion it will be pointed out that various aspects of SLA compared to FLA do not allow for a definite and irrevocable answer to this question.

2 The Idea of Universal Grammar

2.1 Introducing Universal Grammar

Universal Grammar (UG) is a linguistic theory which is often associated with Noam Chomsky, one of the most famous American linguists. “UG is not a grammar in the usual sense – it’s not a set of rules, it’s more a set of principles”[1]. Following the approach of Saville-Troik (2009), UG could be explained as a “general knowledge of what all languages have in common, including constraints on how any natural language can be structured”[2]. This basically means that every human being is provided with a so called “language faculty”. Thus, every child is endowed by birth with “a rich system of linguistic knowledge”[3] without ever being taught. This hypothesis states that human beings are born with an innate universal grammar. From Chomsky´s viewpoint children aren´t able to learn their first language so quickly and effortlessly without any support of an innate language faculty[4]. In other words, a child acts intuitive and unconsciously. Chomsky holds the view that the language faculty in combination with language input builds the basis for general language acquisition. This could be an explanation why all the different languages in the world are similar so many ways. It is assumed that any child, by birth, could be taken to any other country in the world and it would acquire the corresponding language[5]. To put it simple, “linguistic input goes into a “black box” in the mind, something happens, and the grammatical system of a particular language comes out”[6].

Following Radford, the Universal Grammar Theory is often referred to as “innateness hypothesis”[7]. Additionally, this hypothesis implies that language acquisition works entirely different to other kinds of learning or acquisition.

Nevertheless maturation and experience is a major factor to manifest the capacity of UG. Saville-Troik (2009) describes the language acquisition process as follows: the starting point, or initial state, is the UG in combination with innate learning principles which are “wired in” in the brain´s language faculty. Eventually, trough experience and maturation the learner comes to the final state, or adult grammar.[8] It is worth pointing out that attitudes, motivation and social context don´t play any role in acquiring a mother tongue.

2.2 Linguistic competence and performance

The concept of linguistic competence and performance is of high importance regarding the UG-Theory. By the term “linguistic competence” is meant the speakers/hearers knowledge of a language. Basically, “linguistic performance” paraphrases the actual use of a language in concrete situations.[9] In matters of Noam Chomsky and his Universal Grammar-Theory, the focus is more on linguistic competence, than linguistic performance. This does not mean that performance is not relevant for language learning. According to Mitchell and Myles, it is just not that important in Second Language Acquisition, because the focus is on the grammatical competence of a learner.[10]

2.3 Poverty-of-the Stimulus Argument

Another major concept of Chomsky´s Theory is the “logical problem of language learning”[11]. It is also termed the poverty-of-the stimulus argument or the Projection Problem. One fascinating characteristic of language learning is the fact that language learners are capable to produce sentences and utterances which they could never had heard or learned before. The poverty-of-the stimulus argument is based entirely on this fact. Thus, it sums up that “the input to which children are exposed is insufficient to enable them to discover the rules of the language they are trying to learn. This insufficiency is referred to as the poverty of the stimulus”.[12] The question which comes immediately to mind is: “How is it possible that a language learner knows so much about the acquiring language without ever being taught or instructed before?” To put it simple, the input children receive does not match the output at all. Supporters of the Universal Grammar-Theory point out that the solution to this oddity is that every human being is born with innate abilities which enable them to end up with a complex grammar.

2.3.1 Deficient Input

As mentioned above, it doesn´t seem likely that L1 and L2 are capable to prepare a language learner to be successful in one´s target language. Therefore the term “deficient input” will be explained. Basically, there are two major varieties of input: the positive as well as the negative evidence. The first term means that the learner is leastwise partially able to comprehend an actual utterance of another speaker[13]. The latter term indicates that the learner will explicitly be corrected in an inappropriate utterance[14].

This shows that first language input is normally naturalistic and positive, whereas second language input is often instructed and at the same time negative. As Rosamond and Myles (2004) demonstrate, there is a dispute about negative evidence in second language learning though[15]. The issue is that correction often seems to be in vain because the learners do not seem to benefit from correction. They rather seem to keep on doing mistakes irrespective of the received feedback. Some current linguists believe that any natural language needs to be learned from positive evidence alone and corrections are more or less moot. On the contrary, other researchers hold the view that corrections and negative evidence are quite important, but only in the sense of relating to “hot spots” which are currently restructured in the learner´s emerging second language system.[16] But despite all difference, these two views have still one thing in common. They both believe that learner´s are “operating and developing a relatively autonomous second language system”[17] and think that interaction is a way of feeding the language system with “more or less fine-tuned input data”[18].

[...]


[1] Edmondson, W. (1999). Twelve Lectures on Second Language Acquisition. Foreign Language Teaching and Learning Perspectives. Tübingen: Narr, p. 25

[2] Saville-Troik, M. (2009). Introducing Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 47

[3] ibid.

[4] cf. Mitchell, R. & Myles, F. (2004). Second Language Learning Theories. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 55

[5] cf. Edmondson, W. (1999). Twelve Lectures on Second Language Acquisition. Foreign Language Teaching and Learning Perspectives. Tübingen: Narr, p. 25

[6] Saville-Troik, M. (2009). Introducing Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 47

[7] Radford, A. (1997). Syntax. A minimalist Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 8

[8] Saville-Troik, M. (2009). Introducing Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 49

[9] cf. ibid. p.191

[10] cf. Mitchell, R. & Myles, F. (2004). Second Language Learning Theories. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 10

[11] Saville-Troik, M. (2009). Introducing Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 46

[12] Ellis, R. (1997). Second Language Acquisition. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, p.66

[13] cf. Saville-Troik, M. (2009). Introducing Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 192

[14] cf. ibid.

[15] cf. Mitchell, R. & Myles, F. (2004). Second Language Learning Theories. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 22

[16] cf. Mitchell, R. & Myles, F. (2004). Second Language Learning Theories. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 22

[17] ibid.s

[18] ibid.

Details

Pages
18
Year
2011
ISBN (eBook)
9783640982929
ISBN (Book)
9783640982875
File size
514 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v176842
Institution / College
University of Koblenz-Landau – Institut für fremdsprachliche Philologien
Grade
2,7
Tags
second

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Title: Second language acquisition and the role of universal grammar