Universal Grammar and the Basic Variety

Bierwisch, M. (1997). Universal Grammar and the Basic Variety. Second Language Research, 13(4), 348-366. doi:10.1177/026765839701300403.
The Basic Variety (BV) as conceived by Klein and Perdue (K&P) is a relatively stable state in the process of spontaneous (adult) second language acquisition, characterized by a small set of phrasal, semantic and pragmatic principles. These principles are derived by inductive generalization from a fairly large body of data. They are considered by K&P as roughly equivalent to those of Universal Grammar (UG) in the sense of Chomsky's Minimalist Program, with the proviso that the BV allows for only weak (or unmarked) formal features. The present article first discusses the viability of the BV principles proposed by K&P, arguing that some of them are in need of clarification with learner varieties, and that they are, in any case, not likely to be part of UG, as they exclude phenomena (e.g., so-called psych verbs) that cannot be ruled out even from the core of natural language. The article also considers the proposal that learner varieties of the BV type are completely unmarked instantiations of UG. Putting aside problems arising from the Minimalist Program, especially the question whether a grammar with only weak features would be a factual possibility and what it would look like, it is argued that the BV as characterized by K&P must be considered as the result of a process that crucially differs from first language acquisition as furnished by UG for a number of reasons, including properties of the BV itself. As a matter of fact, several of the properties claimed for the BV by K&P are more likely the result of general learning strategies than of language-specific principles. If this is correct, the characterization of the BV is a fairly interesting result, albeit of a rather different type than K&P suggest.
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