The partial availability of universal grammar in second language acquisition : The 'failed functional features hypothesis'

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-226
Journal / PublicationSecond Language Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1997


A number of studies in the research literature have proposed that Universal Grammar (UG) is partially available to adult second language learners. Attempts to provide a syntactic characterization of that partial availability have only recently begun to appear, however. In this article we will argue that speakers of Chinese (a language without wh-operator movement in overt syntax) learning second language English (a language with wh-operator movement in overt syntax) establish mental representations for English which involve pronominal binding rather than operator movement. It will be suggested that this divergence from native-speaker representations is an effect of the inaccessibility of features of functional categories in second language acquisition, what we will refer to as the 'failed functional features hypothesis'. Implications are drawn from the findings for the syntactic characterization of accessibility to UG more generally in second language acquisition. © Arnold 1997.