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Cross-linguistic evidence for the nature of age effects in second language acquisition

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 June 2010

ROBERT DEKEYSER*
Affiliation:
University of Maryland at College Park
IRIS ALFI-SHABTAY
Affiliation:
Tel-Aviv University
DORIT RAVID
Affiliation:
Tel-Aviv University
*
ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Robert DeKeyser, Department of Linguistics, University of Maryland, 3215 Jimenez Hall, College Park, MD 20742. E-mail: rdk@umd.edu

Abstract

Few researchers would doubt that ultimate attainment in second language grammar is negatively correlated with age of acquisition, but considerable controversy remains about the nature of this relationship: the exact shape of the age-attainment function and its interpretation. This article presents two parallel studies with native speakers of Russian: one on the acquisition of English as a second language in North America (n = 76), and one on the acquisition of Hebrew as a second language in Israel (n = 64). Despite the very different nature of the languages being learned, the two studies show very similar results. When age at testing is partialed out, the data reveal a steep decline in the learning of grammar before age 18 in both groups, followed by an essentially horizontal slope until age 40. This is interpreted as evidence in favor of the critical period. Both groups show a significant correlation between ultimate attainment and verbal aptitude for the adult learners, but not for the early learners. This is interpreted as further evidence that the learning processes in childhood and adulthood not only yield different levels of proficiency but are also different in nature.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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