Ultimate attainment in second language acquisition

Ultimate attainment in second language acquisition: A case study. By Donna Lardiere. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2007. Pp. viii, 273. IBSN 0805834567. $80 (Hb).

Reviewed by Richard W. Hallett, Northeastern Illinois University

In Ultimate attainment in second language acquisition: A case study, Donna Lardiere seeks ‘to characterize formal aspects of a particular L2 [second language] end-state idiolect’ and ‘to see whether the findings can be accounted for under recent proposals in the theoretical and language acquisition literature’ (19). To these ends, L presents a detailed case study of Patty, a Chinese-American naturalized immigrant who has been L’s long-term acquaintance. Seven chapters comprise this book. In Ch. 1, ‘Some preliminary issues in adult L2 ultimate attainment’ (1–20), L offers an overview of second language acquisition (SLA) concepts, notions, and controversies key to this case study including fossilization, stabilization, target, idiolect, ultimate attainment, and poverty of stimulus.

In Ch. 2, ‘Introducing Patty’ (21–47), L provides the necessary background information about Patty. Born in Indonesia in 1953, Patty, whose parents spoke Hokkien and Mandarin, was dominant in Hokkien but also fluent in Mandarin and Indonesian by the age of three. At the age of fourteen, Patty moved to China, where she lived for two years. She began to study English, the language of investigation in this case study, when she moved to Hong Kong at the age of sixteen. She married a Vietnamese man, with whom she spoke Cantonese, and together they immigrated to the United States when she was twenty-two. Patty subsequently earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the United States, divorced her Vietnamese husband, and married a native speaker of American English. L notes that Patty does not fit the classic scenario of a L2 learner per Schumann’s (1997) acculturation model.

Ch. 3, ‘Knowledge of finiteness’ (48–93), provides a detailed description of the more formal aspects of Patty’s knowledge of English syntax. This chapter is divided into four sections: ‘Defining finiteness’ (49–50), ‘Considering the input: Kinds of evidence for finiteness’ (50–64), ‘Knowledge of finiteness in SLA’ (65–73), and ‘Finiteness in an end-state L2 grammar’ (73–93). In this chapter L offers details on Patty’s marking of tense, agreement, pronominal case, and form of finiteness.

The issue of Patty’s lack of past tense marking (less than thirty-five percent overall in obligatory contexts) is the focus of Ch. 4, ‘The acquisition of past tense’ (94–139). L provides factors that may have affected this rate such as phonological reduction, first language (L1) influence, type of speech style, and social network affiliation. Patty’s errors in past tense marking, L concludes, are predominantly those of omission.

The focus of Ch. 5, ‘Clausal word order and movement’ (140–79), is verb-raising, which includes adverb placement, wh-movement, relative clauses, and passives in Patty’s English. In Ch. 6, ‘Nominal phrases’ (180–202), L analyzes Patty’s use of possession, plurals, and articles and discusses the interaction between definiteness and number. In Ch. 7, ‘Conclusions’ (203–36), L reviews the formal aspects of Patty’s English idiolect and considers L1 influence and the possibility of decreased sensitivity to input, ‘two (probably related) factors that have been hypothesized to play a crucial role in adult second language acquisition’ (203). Based on the longitudinal study of Patty’s English, L concludes that the formal domains of linguistics ‘are not linked in the way that linguistic theory has previously suggested’ (236).

This in-depth book is a welcome addition to SLA literature. It should be a supplemental text in SLA and psycholinguistic courses.


Schumann, John H. 1997. The neurobiology of affect in language. Malden, MA: Blackwell.