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Volume 3 Number 1, Spring 2006, Pages 1-175   

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Competence Differences Between Native and Near-Native Speakers: Is Puberty the Cut-off Age for Access to UG?

    Sogand Noroozizadeh

Contradictory findings of SLA researchers have motivated a variety of opposite viewpoints concerning the availability of UG in L2 acquisition. Moreover, there is a recent, renewed interest in the claims made by the proponents of the Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) according to which UG's active role in L2 acquisition is likely to decline after puberty. The present study sought to scrutinize the role of UG and age of onset in L2 acquisition. In fact, the study was specifically aimed at determining whether there was any significant difference between native speakers of English and Iranian near-native speakers of the language in terms of their access to Binding Conditions A and B. It was also an attempt to probe into the pervasive 'the younger, the better' myth concerning the relevance of UG to L2 acquisition. The participants in the study were mainly 30 male and female native speakers of English and 60 male and female Iranian near-native speakers of the language among whom 30 had first been exposed to English before puberty and 30 after puberty. The required data were basically obtained through the administration of two tests, one on general English syntax and the other on Binding Principles A and B. The data were analysed through analyses of covariance (ANCOVA) and two-way analyses of variance (Two-Way ANOVA). In short, the findings of the study provided empirical evidence in favor of UG's mediation in L2 acquisition and against the position held by the proponents of the CPH according to which UG is likely to lose its active role in L2 acquisition after puberty. Moreover, the flexibilities inherent in the Persian language concerning the Binding Conditions as proposed in the GB framework tend to minimize, if not totally rule out, the possibility that the subjects' access to Binding Theory as a subsystem of UG might have been affected by their underlying knowledge of Persian.