Review on Processability Theory in China


校园英语·下旬 2019年12期

【Abstract】This paper reviews Processability Theorys applications in English acquisition in China. Though Processability Theory has been exemplified through overwhelming evidence, Processability Theory researches in China is scarce by taking the literature published from 2007 to 2018 in CNKI as samples, especially in English acquisition. In the meantime, most are empirical researches so far.

【Keywords】 literature review; Processability Theory


I. Backgrounds

The starting point of Processability Theory is a review of the “strategies approach to SLA” in 1980s. Researchers--Meisel, Clashen & Pienemann-- did a lot of empirical research to explain the sequences in the acquisition of German word order at first. Then they developed theory known as ‘Multidimensional Model which places priority on internal processing constraints. Processability Theory is based on psycholinguistically and typologically plausible linguistic theory(i.e. LFG). In contemporary formulation, it can explain entire systems of morphosyntax.

II. The main outcome of PT in China

SLA has been a central theme in the discussion of language teaching and learning, and the last decade have seen shift of focus in learning theory from social to cognitive perspective that has highlighted the role of human-oriented role in our understanding of nature of teaching and learning.

Over the past ten years, there has been an explosion of interests in PT, especially in western countries. However, in China, it is still in the early stage. CNKI retrieval system was used to select only three theses on PT perspective based on the age 2007--2018. Taking the literature published in last decade on CNKI as samples, the paper analyzes the academic trends of Chinas PT research and gets a summarized study on the hot topics. There is less relevant literature output of PT which shows researches on PT in China is scarcity. There are only three.

I continue to search CNKI by documents with the key words “Processability Theory” in Chinese. Fifteen articles relate to the subject. Some articles are about L1 transfer or searching for new mode for grammar teaching on the Processability Theory perspective.

Almost all articles are empirical researches which aims to underpin Processability Theory through experimental findings. In China, it is proved that it available in learning Chinese as second language for people of other native language.

Besides, teachability hypothesis is another main topic which attracted great concern. Learners cannot circumnavigate the preceding stage to the next stage, although formal instruction plays a key role in second language acquisition. However, formal instruction is beneficial to lessen the time of the development term of each stage, but not definitely.

Other articles are about the role of native language in second language acquisition. These articles reconfirm the Developmentally Moderated Transfer Hypothesis(DMTH; Pienemann, 1998a, 1998b; Pienemann et al., 2005). Second language development is constrained by processability, namely, the second language learners can only transfer features from the first language when they are ready.

The latest research in 2018, titled Acquisition of Chinese topic-comment constructions by English- and Japanese- speaking learners: Processability Theory approach, is based on the HSK dynamic composition corpus to explore the role of first and second language proficiency, and the written production of Chinese topic-comment constructions by English- and Japanese- speaking learners.

III. Research insufficiency of PT in China

1.Source of linguistic knowledge

How the knowledge accessed by language processor? What is the source of knowledge to accelerate the developmental processes? At the very beginning, UG is introduced to account of the genetically linguistic knowledge. Processability Theory adjusted UG to the new paradigm as minimalist program. However, it is not always suitable for all language, so whether it is applicable still need more empirical researches.

2.Re-surfacing transfer in different context

In the Acquisition of Chinese topic-comment constructions by English- and Japanese- speaking learners: Processability Theory approach, the learners transfer on Chinese topic-comment constructions do not fully conform to the Processability Theory. In other words, the role of first language transfer in SLA needs to be mediated.

More questions have yet to be resolved: like how the learners transit from one stage to next stage? How does procedural memory develop? In brief, in China, we need to draw out the normative as well as the positive implications of an evolutionary theory.

IV. Conclusions

As one of the largest countries around the world, China owns a great number of learners learning English as a compulsory course. It plays a positive role in helping learners to acquire second language in a special situation. Processability Theory provides a new perspective for second language acquisition, also for English teachers.

By examining literature in CNKI, this paper aim to give a systematic conclusion of Processability Theory as well as the main outcomes and the limitations of current researches in China. Also, it suggests the future research directions.


[1]Pienemann, M. 2011. Studying Processability Theory. New York: John Benjamins.

[2]Pienemann, M. & Ke?ler. 1993. Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. New York NY: Routledge/Taylor Francis.

[3]Pienemann, M.Johnston, M. & Brindley, G. 1988. Constructing an acquisition-based procedure for second language assessment. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 10:217–224.


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