Critical Evidence: A Test of the Critical-Period Hypothesis for Second-Language Acquisition

6725 Words Jun 8th, 2013 27 Pages
PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE

Research Article
CRITICAL EVIDENCE: A Test of the Critical-Period Hypothesis for Second-Language Acquisition Kenji Hakuta,1 Ellen Bialystok,2 and Edward Wiley1
1

Stanford University and 2York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Abstract—The critical-period hypothesis for second-language acquisition was tested on data from the 1990 U.S. Census using responses from 2.3 million immigrants with Spanish or Chinese language backgrounds. The analyses tested a key prediction of the hypothesis, namely, that the line regressing second-language attainment on age of immigration would be markedly different on either side of the criticalage point. Predictions tested were that there would be a difference in slope, a
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Two kinds of evidence have typically been used in these challenges. The first is the identification of older learners who achieve nativelike competence in the second language (Birdsong, 1992; Bongaerts, Planken, & Schils, 1995; Ioup, Boustagui, El Tigi, & Moselle, 1994). The second is behavioral evidence that fails to reveal a qualitative change in learning outcomes at the close of a critical period (Bialystok & Hakuta, 1999; Bialystok & Miller, 1999; Birdsong & Flege, 2000; Birdsong & Molis, 2001; Flege, 1999; Flege, Munro, & MacKay, 1995; Flege et al., 1999). Whether such evidence is considered damaging to the critical-period hypothesis depends on the stringency of the criteria for defining the boundaries of the critical period (Birdsong, 1999; Harley & Wang, 1997; Singleton & Lengyel, 1995). Nonetheless, both weak and strong interpretations of the critical-period hypothesis require the demonstration of a significant change in learning outcome, not merely a monotonic decline with age. Defense of the position that language learning is constrained by a critical period requires specifying the maturational stage at which languagelearning potential changes, and ideally the reason for the change. However, there has been little consensus about what age constitutes the critical point, and
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