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Journal Article

Mechanismen des Erst- und Zweitspracherwerbs = Mechanisms of First and Second Language Acquisition


Klein,  Wolfgang
Language Acquisition Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
Other Research, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Klein, W. (2007). Mechanismen des Erst- und Zweitspracherwerbs = Mechanisms of First and Second Language Acquisition. Sprache Stimme Gehör, 31, 138-143. doi:10.1055/s-2007-985818.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-17C0-8
Language acquisition is the transition between the language faculty, with which we are born as a part of our genetic endowment, to the mastery of one or more linguistic systems. There is a plethora of findings about this process; but these findings still do not form a coherent picture of the principles which underlie this process. There are at least six reasons for this situation. First, there is an enormous variability in the conditions under which this process occurs. Second, the learning capacity does not remain constant over time. Third, the process extends over many years and is therefore hard to study. Fourth, especially the investigation of the meaning side is problem-loaded. Fifth, many skills and types of knowledge must be learned in a more or less synchronised way. And sixth, our understanding of the functioning of linguistic systems is still very limited. Nevertheless, there are a few overarching results, three of which are discussed here: (1) There are salient differences between child and adult learners: While children normally end up with perfect mastery of the language to be learned, this is hardly ever the case for adults. On the hand, it could be shown for each linguistic property examined so far, that adults are in principle able to learn it up to perfection. So, adults can learn everything perfectly well, they just don’t. (2) Within childhood, age of onset plays no essential role for ultimate attainment. (3) Children care much more for formal correctness than adults - they are just better in mimicking existing systems. It is argued that age does not affect the „construction capacity”- the capacity to build up linguistic systems - but the „copying faculty”, i.e., the faculty to imitate an existing system.