10

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?

  • Can someone create a "theory" tag? I'm planning on doing a couple of these as I study for my SLA final. – Azor Ahai Nov 26 '16 at 3:00
  • Great to hear that at least someone is studying SLA theory! I have created the tag and a tag description, but the tag description needs to get reviewed by a moderator. – Christophe Strobbe Nov 26 '16 at 19:35
  • @ChristopheStrobbe Thanks! I hope I can contribute a little here, there's a lot of applied SLA. – Azor Ahai Nov 26 '16 at 19:40
6

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.

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.

Other resources:

  • What of the fact that L2 languages do often learn new formal features that are not in their L1? – SAH Feb 19 '17 at 14:31
  • @SAH The RDH states that post-sensitive period learners don't learn them in the same way that L1 speakers do, although they may get very good at approximating them. – Azor Ahai Feb 21 '17 at 2:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.