The Comparative Fallacy in SLA Literature

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Ji Hyun Kim


Learners’ language has been described as transitional competence (Corder, 1967) and interlanguage (Selinker, 1972), and it has been categorized as a natural language (Adjemian, 1976). This indicates that learners possess their own languages. However, the question remains whether or not learners’ language has been explained and understood on its own, and not merely compared to target-language (TL) norms in the SLA literature (Cook, 1999). Bley-Vroman (1983) asserts that comparing learners’ language to TL norms may preclude researchers from an understanding of the systematic nature of a learner’s system, which in turn results in the comparative fallacy. He also warns that “[t]he comparative fallacy can have very serious effects on the validity of empirical studies in the way that it influences the interpretation and classification of data” (p. 15).

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