I've been reading about second language acquisition, and I've come across the Representational Deficit Hypothesis (also known as the Failed Functional Features Hypothesis). What is it? And where can I read more about it?
The Representational Deficit Hypothesis (RDH) is part of the greater school of thought that L2s are not processed in the same manner as a native language. Specifically, the RDH states that L2 learners cannot learn new formal features that are not in their L1.
An example of a formal feature that English (largely) lacks would be case. The RDH predicts that an L1 English speaker learning a language with case (e.g. Russian) would struggle to acquire case.
Later thoughts on the RDH suggest that the difficulty is only found on "uninterpretable features," that is, features that serve only a grammatical purpose, e.g. grammatical gender agreement.
The key point of the RDH is that learners lack the syntactic representation of features not present in the L1 and are therefore unable to comprehend or produce associated morphosyntactic forms and structures accurately, although learners may compensate by using the L1 grammar to approximate them.
- Patti Spinner, "The second language acquisition of number and gender in Swahili: A Feature Reassembly approach" (emphasis added)
Further, the RDH also predicts that when under pressure, L2 speakers will default to an underspecified form for all cases. In Spanish, which has grammatical gender, this would mean defaulting to masculine, even when the word is lexically female. I don't know Russian, so I can't say for sure, but an L2 speaker of Russian would probably resort to the nominative case over others.
Hawkins R and Casillas G (2008) Explaining frequency of verb morphology in early L2 speech. Lingua 118: 595–612.
Hawkins R and Hattori H (2006) Interpretation of English multiple wh-questions by Japanese speakers: A missing uninterpretable feature account. Second Language Research 22: 269–301.
Hawkins R and Chan C (1997) The partial availability of Universal Grammar in second language acquisition: The Failed Functional Features Hypothesis. Second Language Research 13: 187–226.