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Title:The sensitive period for second language acquisition: An experimental study of age effects on universal grammar and language transfer
Author(s):Shim, Rosa Jinyoung
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Maclay, Howard S.
Department / Program:Linguistics
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Education, Language and Literature
Language, Linguistics
Education, Early Childhood
Abstract:The main objectives of this study are to test the Sensitive Period Hypothesis for second language acquisition and to find out its nature. Speed (reaction time) of responses was measured in addition to grammaticality judgment so that the subjects' conscious monitoring of linguistic processes could be kept at a minimum. The reaction time measurement also provided information on the subjects' fluency of processing. Materials were developed within the framework of the Universal Grammar Theory of Principles and Parameters. Thus sentences were constructed to test the subjects' knowledge on the Subjacency Principle and the Binding Principle for Anaphors in English.
Subjects in this study were no more than 15 when they were first exposed to their L2 environment. A total of 120 Korean-English bilinguals were divided into six groups according to their age of onset of exposure to English: 0-2, Marginal 0-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-11, 12-14. These groups are described as infant, marginally infant, early-childhood, mid-childhood, late-childhood and early adolescent learners of English. In addition to the Korean-English bilingual subjects, three groups of native speakers of English (bilinguals; monolinguals under reaction time condition; and monolinguals under non-reaction-time condition) were tested.
Group differences were analyzed with ANOVAs and Tukey HSD post hoc tests. Maturation effects were analyzed using two types of analysis: first ANOVAs were performed with age as a continuous variable and compared with the analyses of ANOVAs with grouped means. The results showed that the polychotomization of the age variable in this study did not produce differences in the two types of analyses. In addition, partial correlations between age of onset and the two dependent variables were done with the length of stay effect removed and vice versa. Significant results were obtained for the age of onset variable, but not for the length of stay variable. No significant results were obtained for the trade-off effect between reaction time and accuracy rate.
Results revealed evidence of an optimal sensitive period for L2 acquisition of native-like ability in knowledge of language and fluency of processing that ends in early childhood (around age five). In mid and late childhood maturation effects were found such that linguistic knowledge of the L2 and fluency in the processing of the L2 decrease as the age of onset of L2 acquisition increases. Thus it was concluded that a residual sensitive period exists in mid and late childhood (around age six to eleven). By the onset of adolescence (around age twelve to fourteen), there was distinctive evidence that one could not attain native-like knowledge of or fluency in the L2. Thus the sensitive period ends with the onset of adolescence (or onset of puberty).
The effects of the sensitive period on the availability of UG is that UG is fully available during the optimal sensitive period, and exposure to the second language environment during the optimal sensitive period leads to native-like acquisition of the Subjacency Principle and the Binding Principle for Anaphors. During the residual sensitive period, results showed maturation effects in terms of decreased availability of UG. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)
Issue Date:1995
Rights Information:Copyright 1995 Shim, Rosa Jinyoung
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9522174
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9522174

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