Can the late bird catch the worm? Ultimate attainment in L2 syntax
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Utrecht : LOT
Number of pages
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, 20 juni 2005
Promotor : Muysken, P.C. Co-promotores : Bongaerts, T., Coppen, P.A.J.M.
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Subject(Near-) native competence in Dutch as a second language. A study of the acquisition of dummy subjects constructions; Structure in Use; Benadering van moedertaalcompetentie. Een onderzoek naar de verwerving van constructies met vervangende subjecten door leerders van het Nederlands als tweede taal; Structuur in uitvoering
According to the Critical Period Hypothesis for second language acquisition a native-like level of proficiency should not be attainable after puberty due to maturational changes in the brain that make people less sensitive to language input. In this dissertation this hypothesis is tested and related to the typological distance between the languages involved. A study is presented in which 43 native speakers of German, French and Turkish participated. They arrived in the Netherlands after the age of twelve and were highly proficient in Dutch. Their performance on a sentence preference test and a sentence imitation task containing dummy subject constructions was compared to that of native speakers of Dutch. The results on these tasks show that there are L2 learners in each L1 group who have reached a native level in L2 grammar after puberty. A comparison of the learners who fell within the native speakers range on the sentence preference task according to our (strict) criteria with the other L2 learners suggests that the role of factors such as input, attending Dutch classes and age of arrival (after puberty) were rather limited. At the same time, there did seem to be a meaningful relation with level of education, proficiency in some other language and pleasure in learning languages. On the basis of these results it was concluded that reaching a native level of proficiency after puberty is possible for constructions that are difficult to learn and for which no explicit knowledge is available. The results thus falsify the CPH. Finally, it was argued that the results with respect to the background characteristics of the L2 learners suggest that factors on which learners can exert most influence seem to play a rather limited role, while something like language aptitude or language awareness seems to play a more important role
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