RECONSIDERING SLA RESEARCH: DIMENSIONS AND DIRECTIONS
University of Maryland, October 14-17
In concert with the theme Reconsidering SLA Research: Dimensions and Directions, SLRF 2010 will focus on the wide range of applied, theoretical, and experimental approaches that characterizes the current field of Second Language Acquisition. The aim of the conference is to bring together relevant theories and research methodology from various disciplines that deepen our understanding of SLA and its application to real world needs. To this end, we are soliciting colloquia, papers, and posters that investigate SLA from a variety of perspectives that add to our collective understanding of SLA in theory, research, and practice.
Towards a theory of instructed adult SLA
Despite theoretical disunity in the field as a whole, four decades of modern SLA research in naturalistic, formal and mixed environments have produced a developing consensus on how instruction can facilitate adult language learning. Differences remain, however, not least over which learners qualify psycholinguistically as adults, and the relative importance, and optimal timing, of attempts to harness explicit and implicit learning processes. There is no corresponding consensus within language teaching circles, however, where serious differences remain over preferred type of instruction. In such situations, theories, however incomplete, can provide candidate solutions to ‘problems’ in Laudan’s sense, offer useful suggestions for productive research, and motivate rational interim approaches to practice, in this case, language teaching. I will present an embryonic theory of instructed adult SLA that is broadly compatible with results on interlanguage development and work on the relative effectiveness of different types of instruction, suggest some potentially fruitful lines of research, and provide a defensible approach to language teaching for adults.
Near-native second language ultimate attainment – why not nativelike?
In this talk, I will draw on various results from second language research carried out at Stockholm University over the last couple of decades on the relationship between age of onset and ultimate attainment. In our earlier main publications on the topic (Abrahamsson & Hyltenstam, 2008, 2009; Hyltenstam & Abrahamsson, 2003), we have presented a theoretical perspective on maturational constraints and also provided empirical, quantitative results from studies. Findings show, among other things, that the majority of our participants, except a few cases with early ages of onset, exhibit language proficiency levels that are not within the range of native speakers across the board of language tasks, despite the fact they are taken for native speakers in everyday oral communication. We therefore characterize these speakers as near-native rather than nativelike and see our results as being compatible with a maturation constraints perspective. Against this backdrop, I will present qualitative analytic data on linguistic features from three areas, pronunciation (VOT), grammar (V2) and lexicon (metaphoric elements) plus aspects of language perception that illustrate the type of minor but typical differences that exist between near-native and native speakers. A theoretical interpretation based on the notion of multiple critical periods and the distinction between implicit linguistic competence and metalinguistic knowledge (Paradis, 2004) will be discussed.
Language acquisition without an acquisition device
Most explanatory work on first and second language learning assumes the primacy of the acquisition phenomenon itself, and a good deal of highly specialized work has been devoted to the search for an ‘acquisition device’ that is specific to humans, and perhaps even to language. I will consider the possibility that this strategy is misguided and that language acquisition is a secondary effect of something more basic. More precisely, I will propose that what we think of as language acquisition is essentially an accidental consequence of what happens when a processor of a particular type interacts with experience of a particular type—without the intervention of special learning mechanisms or a priori grammatical knowledge. I will explore the challenges associated with this perspective by considering two case studies in second language acquisition, one involving a language-particular phenomenon for which there is ample input and the other involving a phenomenon which manifests relatively little cross-linguistic variation but is severely underdetermined by experience.
Bilinguals and second language learners: Juggling two languages in one mind and brain
Until recently, research on language and its cognitive interface focused almost exclusively on monolingual speakers of a single language and typically speakers of English as the native language. In the past decade, the recognition that more of the world’s speakers are bilingual than monolingual has led to a dramatic increase in research that assumes bilingualism as the norm rather than the exception. This new research investigates the way in which bilinguals and second language learners negotiate the presence of two languages in a single mind and brain. A critical insight is that bilingualism and second language learning provide a tool for examining aspects of the cognitive architecture that are otherwise obscured by the skill associated with native language performance. In this talk, I illustrate this approach to language processing and its neural basis and consider the consequences that bilingualism holds for cognition more generally.
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