Professor ZhaoHong Han to present at TCCRISLS at Teachers College on October 5th ☆

40 Years Later: Updating the Fossilization Hypothesis

Fossilization, an interlanguage-particular phenomenon whereby a semi-developed linguistic form or construction shows permanent resilience to environmental influence and hence absence of further progression towards the target, is one of the most popular concepts among second language researchers and teachers. In fact, it was the empirical motivation for the inception of the field of study that we know today as second language acquisition (SLA).

Exactly forty years ago, in one of the field’s founding and seminal works, Selinker (1972) hypothesized that fossilization is a signature character of second language acquisition, tied to a unique cognitive mechanism called the latent psychological structure (LPS), “an already formulated arrangement in the brain” (p. 229), which putatively prevents the learner from acquiring the target language norms in a permanent way. Selinker further predicted that a lack of complete mastery of the target language is typical and inevitable among second language learners. The concept and conception of fossilization have not only remained viable to date, but have also substantially evolved, as has the methodology employed for the related research.

Given the theoretical import of fossilization in understanding second language acquisition, several reviews have duly appeared in the L2 literature in recent years (Han, 2004, 2011; Long, 2003). However, the intent of this paper is not to provide another overview but to update the Fossilization Hypothesis. I will do so through revisiting a suite of questions raised in Selinker and Lamendella (1978), bringing to bear current understandings, (b) introducing the Selective Fossilization Hypothesis (Han, 2009), and subsequently (c) offering an analytic account of several morpho-syntactic structures documented as fossilizable in recent SLA literature. I will conclude with a few generalizations and a call for a more inclusive approach to SLA research that transcends theoretical paradigms and idiosyncratic prejudices, an approach that will promote studies to investigate representation, processing, and use in cooperation, and not in separation or conflict.