J nurs Studies n c n j vol. No. 2008 Introduction

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− 33 J Nurs Studies NC NJ Vol. 7 No. 1 2008
Age has been regarded as an important factor in the ways in which language learners differ, and avast amount of research has been conducted regarding age effects on second language acquisition (e.g. Birdsong, 1992; DeKeyser, 2000; Oyama,
1976; Patkowski, 1980). It is generally believed that children enjoy an advantage over adults in learning languages because of their plasticity According to Chomsky (1957), humans are equipped with a language acquisition device , which enables them to acquire the language in away that goes beyond simple habitual formation. The universal grammar proposed by Chomsky later on (1966) is thought to bean innate system of language acquisition, the so- called language acquisition device. Although Chomsky has not mentioned the possibility of applying this theoretical device in the brain to the acquisition of second languages, grammaticality judgment tests , the purpose of which is to measure learners universal grammar, have been widely used for second language acquisition research (e.g. Johnson & Newport, 1989). These grammaticality judgment tests consist of morphosyntactic items, implying that the universal grammar is really about how learners organize the target languages morphosyntactic system. On the other hand, Lenneberg (1967) hypothesized that humans latent language structure, i.e. the cognitive structure for automatic language acquisition, might stop functioning when the human brain matures, or at the time of lateralization of the human brain, which possibly occurs around puberty. He established the critical period hypothesis, which was originally proposed by Penfield & Roberts (1959), and explained the difficulty of acquiring our first language after puberty, based on neuropsychological factors (Lenneberg, 1967). In the area of second language acquisition research, the critical period hypothesis has been taken into consideration in age-related studies. There is believed to be a period up to a certain age during which learners can acquire a second language easily and achieve native-speaker-like competence. The sensitive period hypothesis, which is used by Patkowski (1980), has been sometimes used as an alternative term to refer to the critical period hypothesis in second language acquisition, and has often been freely substituted in second language research literature. However, the critical period hypothesis has been predominantly used in first language acquisition, whilst the sensitive period hypothesis has been generally restricted to
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