The Availability of Universal Grammar to Second Language Learners: A Case of Wh-movement

Ghasem Tayyebi


In this experimental study, the researcher examined the accessibility of Universal Grammar to adult Persian learners of English with respect to the Empty Category Principle and the Subjacency. These principles are not operative in Persian as it is a Wh-in situ language. A 5-point Likert scale acceptability judgment task, which included both grammatical and ungrammatical extractions, was given to a group of 35 advanced Iranian EFL learners. The control group consisted of 30 adult native speakers of English. Their responses provided the baseline against which we measured the performance of non-native speakers.
The categorical performance of natives and non-natives on both types of grammatical and ungrammatical extractions was revealed through within-group comparisons. Similarly, between-group comparisons displayed that the performance of Iranian EFL learners did not differ significantly from that of the natives in the ungrammatical constructions. In general, the findings of this study led the researcher to conclude that Universal Grammar constrains adult EFL learners’ competence.

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International Journal of English Linguistics   ISSN 1923-869X (Print)   ISSN 1923-8703 (Online)   E-mail:

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