The basic variety (or: Couldn't natural languages be much simpler?)
Klein, W., & Perdue, C.
The basic variety (or: Couldn't natural languages be much simpler?). Second Language Research, 13
, 301-347. doi:10.1191/026765897666879396.
In this article, we discuss the implications of the fact that adult second language learners (outside the classroom) universally develop a well-structured, efficient and simple form of language–the Basic Variety (BV). Three questions are asked as to (1) the structural properties of the BV, (2) the status of these properties and (3) why some structural properties of ‘fully fledged’ languages are more complex. First, we characterize the BV in four respects: its lexical repertoire, the principles according to which utterances are structured, and temporality and spatiality expressed. The organizational principles proposed are small in number, and interact. We analyse this interaction, describing how the BV is put to use in various complex verbal tasks, in order to establish both what its communicative potentialities are, and also those discourse contexts where the constraints come into conflict and where the variety breaks down. This latter phenomenon provides a partial answer to the third question,concerning the relative complexity of ‘fully fledged’ languages–they have devices to deal with such cases. As for the second question, it is argued firstly that the empirically established continuity of the adult acquisition process precludes any assignment of the BV to a mode of linguistic expression (e.g., ‘protolanguage’) distinct from that of ‘fully fledged’ languages and, moreover, that the organizational constraints of the BV belong to the core attributes of the human language capacity, whereas a number of complexifications not attested in the BV are less central properties of this capacity. Finally, it is shown that the notion of feature strength, as used in recent versions of Generative Grammar, allows a straightforward characterization of the BV as a special case of an I-language, in the sense of this theory. Under this perspective, the acquisition of an Ilanguage beyond the BV can essentially be described as a change in feature strength.