Rex A. Sprouse

Rex A. Sprouse

Professor, Second Language Studies

Adjunct Professor, Linguistics and Germanic Studies

Director of Graduate Studies of Department, Second Language Studies


  • Ph.D., Germanic linguistics, Princeton University, 1989
  • M.A., Germanic linguistics, Princeton University, 1983
  • B.A., comparative literature and German, Hiram College, 1979

About Rex A. Sprouse

I am probably best known in the field of non-native language acquisition for my three-decade collaboration work with Professor Bonnie D. Schwartz of the University of Hawai‘i. Together we proposed the Full Transfer/Full Access model, which continues to be influential in formal approaches to non-native language acquisition. Prof. Schwartz and I have also published papers on the centrality of the poverty of the stimulus for evaluating evidence for the claim that adult non-native language acquisition is guided and restricted by the principles of Universal Grammar. I am also interested in investigating the role of principles of Universal Grammar in the acquisition of non-native phonology. In joint work with Professor Öner Özçelik of Indiana University, I have examined the acquisition of “non-canonical” vowel harmony in English-Turkish interlanguage.

In the last couple of years, I have also turned my attention to models of third language acquisition. This has led to critical overviews of recent research co-authored with Professor Schwartz, as well as empirical investigations with students at Indiana University in my third language acquisition lab. Research questions here include the role of previously acquired languages, methodological issues, and the extent to which the acquisition of a third language can exert “backward transfer” effects on a learner’s L2 interlanguage grammar.

Beyond the field of nonnative language acquisition, I maintain interest in general linguistic theory (both syntax and phonology) and in comparative and diachronic morpho-syntax and phonology, with a special focus on the languages of Western Europe (Germanic, Romance, Celtic) and the Turkic languages. Current projects include investigation of nominal phrases (DPs/NPs) in Germanic and Turkic languages and exploration of how shifts in mainstream syntactic theories have impacted on generative nonnative language acquisition research.

My contributions to the teaching mission of the Second Language Studies Department are rooted in my publication record in the empirical and conceptual foundations of models of non-native language acquisition (including third language acquisition), my research and general interests in comparative and diachronic linguistics (especially morpho-syntax and the syntax-semantics interface, but also phonology), and my familiarity with the history and culture of the United States and Europe. I regularly teach graduate courses on non-native language acquisition, linguistic typology, and (on loan to the Department of Linguistics) historical linguistics, while my undergraduate teaching is primarily focused on a course introducing international students to “the American experience.”

In mid-February 2021, I accepted an invitation to become an Associate Editor for the journal Language Acquisition. I recognize that this appointment will be a new challenge, but I am also very excited about what I will learn. My hope is that this opportunity for service to the profession will also equip me to be a better resource and mentor for Second Language Studies Department students.

Research interests

  • Models of second and third language acquisition
  • Structure and history of the languages of Western Europe (Germanic, Romance, Celtic) and Turkic languages
  • Syntactic theory
  • Language contact

Selected publications

  • Schwartz, Bonnie D., and Rex A. Sprouse. 2021. Making models, making predictions. Response to commentaries on invited keynote paper for the 2021 Epistemological Issue of Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism. To appear online in February 2021.
  • Schwartz, Bonnie D., and Rex A. Sprouse. 2020. The Full Transfer/Full Access Model and L3 cognitive states. Invited keynote paper for the 2021 Epistemological Issue of Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism.
  • Schwartz, Bonnie D., and Rex A. Sprouse. 2020. In defense of 'copying and restructuring.' Second Language Research. DOI: 10.1177/0267658320975831.
  • Bardovi-Harlig, Kathleen, and Rex A. Sprouse. 2018. Negative versus positive transfer. In The TESOL encyclopedia of English language teaching, ed. by John I. Liontas. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
  • Schwartz, Bonnie D., and Rex A. Sprouse. 2017. Universal Grammar and second language acquisition. The Oxford handbook of Universal Grammar, ed. by Ian Roberts, 289-304. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Özçelik, Öner, and Rex A. Sprouse. 2017. Emergent knowledge of a universal phonological principle in the L2 acquisition of vowel harmony in Turkish: A 'four'-fold poverty of the stimulus in L2 acquisition. Second Language Research. 33.179-206.
  • Özçelik, Öner, and Rex A. Sprouse. 2016. Decreasing dependence on orthography in phonological development: Evidence from vowel harmony in English-Turkish interlanguage. Second language acquisition of Turkish, ed. by Ayşe Gürel, 49-72. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.
  • Schwartz, Bonnie D., and Rex A. Sprouse. 2013. Generative approaches and the poverty of the stimulus. The Cambridge handbook of second language acquisition, ed, by Julia Herschensohn and Martha Young-Scholten, 137-158. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Darcy, Isabella; Laurent Dekydtspotter; Rex A. Sprouse; Justin Glover; Christiane Kaden; Michael McGuire; and John H.G. Scott. 2012. Direct mapping of acoustics to phonology: On the lexical encoding of front round vowels in L1 English-L2 French acquisition. Second Language Research 28.5-40.