The Teachability Hypothesis and Concept-based Instruction: topicalization in Chinese as a Second Language

Open Access
Zhang, Xian
Graduate Program:
Applied Linguistics
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 05, 2014
Committee Members:
  • James Lantolf, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Xiaofei Lu, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Ning Yu, Committee Member
  • Ping Li, Committee Member
  • Processability Theory
  • Teachability Theory
  • Sociocultural Theory
  • Concept-based teaching
Teachability Hypothesis (TH, Pienemann, 1984, 1987, 1989) claims that formal instruction cannot affect the route of acquisition of processing procedures predicted by Processability Theory (PT, Pienemann, 1998). Aligned with Piagetian theory, Pienemann argues that L2 instruction is subordinated to L2 development and therefore cannot override PT’s universal developmental sequences. Vygotsky (1978) argued that psychological development is neither predetermined nor universal. It depends on the quality of cognitive tools and social relationships, most especially in educational settings. This thesis tests the central claim of the Teachability Hypothesis by investigating whether instructions that follow Gal’perin’s (1970) Systemic Theoretical Instruction (concept-based instruction) would change the L2 Chinese developmental sequence predicted by the Topic Hypothesis, an extension of PT (Pienemann, Biase, & Kawaguchi, 2005). According to the Topic Hypothesis, L2 Chinese learners must progress through three sequential stages: SVO, ADJ+SVO, OSV. Eight beginning L2 Chinese learners and two heritage speakers took part in this study. In the first experiment, six participants at the SVO stage were taught the OSV structure. It was found that these learners were capable of producing OSV structure before they could produce ADJ+SVO structure. In the second experiment, two participants at the SVO stage were taught the OSV and the ADJ+SVO structure in the same instruction session. Results indicate that both the OSV and the ADJ+SVO structure were processable to the two learners. In the third experiment, it was found that the two heritage speaker could produce a higher stage grammar structure (the ba-construction, Gao, 2009; Wang, 2012) without the capability of processing a lower stage grammar structure (the OSV structure). All these results highlight Vygotsky’s argument that instruction can be an important factor that leads cognitive development.