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Non-native acquisition and language design

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Abstract

Biolinguistics sees language as a cognitive organ and L1-acquisition as a process of language growth. A natural assumption within this approach is that of Lenneberg (1967), who assumes that language growth is subject to certain time restrictions. Some scholars hold Lenneberg’s assumption to be correct; pointing out that L2-acquisition differs from L1-acquisition in not being uniform, automatic or convergent as the latter is; a difference that could follow from loss to access to the mental mechanisms responsible for L1-acquisition due to aging. Many researchers, however, refute Lenneberg’s assumption, pointing out that foreign languages are natural languages and must therefore be constrained by UG; the very mechanism responsible for L1 acquisition. I argue that this debate has taken place without a working model of the design of language. I show that, without such a model, the questions of the debate are misleading. I further show that once a minimalist model is considered, a time restriction on language growth is consistent with the fact that foreign languages are UG constrained. Finally, I argue that time restrictions only constrain those areas of language that involve parameter-setting (e.g. lexical learning), and never those determined by language design.

References

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