The Comparative Fallacy in Studies of the L2 Acquisition of Unaccusative Verbs

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J.D. Purdy


Much research has been done in the past half-dozen years on the acquisition of unaccusative verbs by learners of a second language. While these studies are concerned with the acquisition of a target language (TL) system, too much emphasis on the deviation of the learner’s interlanguage (IL) system from the TL system may lead the researcher to commit a comparative fallacy (Bley-Vroman, 1983). Bley-Vroman was concerned that drawing conclusions about an L2 learner’s acquisition of TL forms based only on comparison of the learner’s IL forms with the corresponding TL forms may obscure systematicity within the IL. This paper will examine three studies to provide insight into the role the comparative fallacy plays in research into the L2 acquisition of unaccusative verbs. It will be seen that attending to the possibility of committing a comparative fallacy may lead researchers to consider features of an IL that might otherwise go unnoticed.

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