The results of an experiment evaluating the perception of a new phonological contrast by adult L2 learners provide a challenge to the Critical Period Hypothesis by suggesting that those components of Universal Grammar known as features are still directly accessible to mature (post-puberty) language learners. Thirty-six native Japanese speakers were tested on their ability to perceive the English phonological feature [distributed]—a feature inactive in Japanese—and their results were compared to a control group of 16 native English speakers. While the overall score of the Japanese speakers suggested that this non-native contrast was indeed difficult for these L2 learners, a closer look at their individual scores revealed that nearly half of the Japanese participants (42%) still performed with a native-like accuracy on this hitherto novel feature. Further analyses were then conducted to evaluate the effect of external and biologically-related factors on performance on the task. Regression analyses failed to demonstrate a significant correlation between score on the task and either age of arrival or time spent in the L2-speaking country. In contrast, a significant relation was found between the test scores and gender, with female participants performing with higher accuracy than their male counterparts. Whether Japanese participants were enrolled in an ESL program at the time of testing was also found to be related to their performance on the perceptual task.
Proceedings of the 8th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference (GASLA 2006): The Banff Conference
edited by Mary Grantham O'Brien, Christine Shea, and John Archibald Table of contents
ISBN 978-1-57473-416-4 library binding
v + 161 pages
publication date: 2006
published by Cascadilla Proceedings Project, Somerville, MA, USA