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Processability Theory and German Case Acquisition


  • I am most grateful to Manfred Pienemann, Klaas Willems, Katja Lochtman, Madeline Lutjeharms, and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. The study's results were presented at the 8th International Symposium on Processability, Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism, held at Verona University, Italy, 15–16 September 2008. I wish to thank the organizing committee for giving me this opportunity. I gratefully acknowledge the contribution of the participating teachers and pupils. Any remaining errors and problems are entirely mine.

concerning this article should be addressed to Kristof Baten, German Department, Ghent University, Blandijnberg 2, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium. Internet:


This article represents the first attempt to formulate a hypothetical sequence for German case acquisition by Dutch-speaking learners on the basis of Processability Theory (PT). It will be argued that case forms emerge corresponding to a development from lexical over phrasal to interphrasal morphemes. This development, however, is subject to a correction factor due to the principle of direct mapping. In addition, the unmarked alignment hypothesis allows for a differentiation between similar case contexts (e.g., preverbal and postverbal nominative or accusative arguments). A cross-sectional study was performed in order to examine whether the German case system is indeed acquired according to the hypotheses derived from PT. “Fill-in-the-blanks-exercises” were analyzed from 704 Flemish second-language learners of German. The results of the study do indeed suggest a development in line with PT.