Second Language Acquisition and the Critical Period Hypothesis (Hardback) book cover

Second Language Acquisition and the Critical Period Hypothesis

Edited by David Birdsong

© 1999 – Routledge

208 pages

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About the Book

In language learning, the rule of thumb is: the earlier the better. Children exposed to language from birth are uniformly successful in first language acquisition (L1A), whereas those deprived of contact with language during childhood are pathologically deficient. In second language acquisition (L2A), the difficulty of learning after puberty is routinely attested anecdotally and has been the subject of numerous scientific studies. It is widely believed that age effects in both are developmental in nature. Native levels of attainment in L1A and L2A are thought to be possible only if learning began before the closure of a "window of opportunity"--a critical or sensitive period.

Increasingly, this popular wisdom is being called into question. Triggering this reevaluation is evidence that some late-starting learners achieve native-like competence in a second language and evidence of age effects past the presumed closure of the window of opportunity for learning. As the debate takes shape, some of the most renowned researchers in the field are weighing in on the issue. Their thoughts and evidence are presented in this volume.

The chapters approach the Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) from diverse perspectives and are evenly balanced in favor of and against the CPH-L2A. Each of the contributors brings authority and an international reputation to the question. As the papers encompass many domains of inquiry in L2A--syntax, morphology, phonetics/phonology, Universal Grammar, and neurofunctional factors in language--this volume should appeal to a wide audience of researchers and advanced students.


"Birdsong's collection of papers describes a waystage--or rather, a series of different waystages on different roads--in research and speculation on the CPH issue. It is a significant publication, and important reading for those who need to keep up-to-date with second language acquisition research."


"In sum, Birdsong's book opens a useful way into a compelling intellectual debate that has important implications for educational policy."

Child Language

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface. D. Birdsong, Introduction: Whys and Why Nots of the Critical Period Hypothesis for Second Language Acquisition. C.M. Weber-Fox, H.J. Neville, Functional Neural Subsystems Are Differentially Affected by Delays in Second Language Immersion: ERP and Behavioral Evidence in Bilinguals. J.R. Hurford, S. Kirby, Co-Evolution of Language Size and the Critical Period. L. Eubank, K.R. Gregg, Critical Periods and (Second) Language Acquisition: Divide et Impera. J.E. Flege, Age of Learning and Second Language Speech. T. Bongaerts, Ultimate Attainment in L2 Pronunciation: The Case of Very Advanced Late L2 Learners. E. Bialystok, K. Hakuta, Confounded Age: Linguistic and Cognitive Factors in Age Differences for Second Language Acquisition.

About the Series

Second Language Acquisition Research Series

The Second Language Acquisition Research series presents and explores issues bearing directly on theory construction and/or research methods in the study of second language acquisition. Its titles (both authored and edited volumes) provide thorough and timely overviews of high-interest topics, and include key discussions of existing research findings and their implications. A special emphasis of the series is reflected in the monographs dealing with specific data collection methods or instruments.  Each of these monographs addresses the kinds of research questions for which the method/instrument is best suited, offers extended description of its use, and outlines the problems associated with its use. The volumes in this series will be invaluable to students and scholars alike, and perfect for use in courses on research methodology and in individual research.


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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
EDUCATION / Bilingual Education