Tag Archives: Acquisition
Second Language Acquisition: Universality and Variability

Diane Larsen-Freeman – University of Michigan
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 3:30-5:20 pm
2336 Mason Hall

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The modern day study of second language acquisition (SLA) dates back to the late 1960s.  What launched it was the discovery of common acquisition orders and sequences of development among all learners of a given second language. Of course, there was clear native language influence on such orders and sequences, but the L1 interference was perceived to minimally “disturb” them.  This finding of universality has been remarkably robust and is widely accepted among second language acquisition researchers.  It has inspired many theoretical explanations, from the existence of an innate universal grammar, still accessible in SLA, to processability theory, which explains the common order by appealing to sentence processing constraints, to usage-based theories, which attribute the universality to features in the input, such as the frequency, saliency, and contingency of form-meaning mapping of certain constructions. More recently, there has been a shift to focusing on variability in the SLA process.  While it has always been acknowledged to be part of SLA, awareness of its ubiquity has been heightened through increased attention to social and contextual factors.  In addition, when one examines individual learners, as opposed to group phenomena, variability is obvious. Gaussian statistics, which emphasize averages, should at least be complemented with Pareto-based statistics, which feature (nearly) infinite variance.  In addition, variability has been recognized to play an important role in stimulating language development among second language learners, leading researchers to focus upon variable performance, looking for “motors of change.” The course will conclude with a consideration of a complexity-theory view of language and its learning, which inspires us to look for what unites universality and variability.

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The Bilingual Brain

Loraine Obler – City University of New York Graduate Center
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 1:30-3:20 pm
2336 Mason Hall

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For a century and a half ,data have been gathered on brain organization for language. From early on, as this research was initially carried out primarily in Europe, questions have been asked about how language is represented and processed in the brains of bilinguals and multilinguals. In this class we will review the questions that have been asked and the currently held answers concerning how brains handle more than one language. After an initial review of brain regions that have been identified as crucial for language generally and methods for studying them, topics will include a selection of the following:

- Parallel and differential impairment and recovery from aphasia in bilinguals

- Consequences of age of L2 acquisition

- Consequences of age of diminishment of L 1 or L2 use (e.g., in heritage-language speakers)

- Bilingual switching

- Cognitive advantages of bilingualism

- Talented L2 learning and hyperpolyglots

- Particular difficulties with L2 learning (links to dyslexia)

- L1 and L2 attrition

- Shared and distinct components of the bilingual’s two languages (e.g., cognates vs. non-cognates; bidialectalism vs. bilingualism)

- Differences between bilingualism and multilingualism

- Bilingualism in Alzheimer’s disease

Our focus will be not only on the phenomena of interest, but also on how neurolinguistic methods lead to findings and what the relative advantages and disadvantages of the commonly used techniques are.

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The Role of Children in Language Contact and Change

Carmel O’Shannessy – University of Michigan
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 11:00 am – 12:50 pm
2325 Mason Hall

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The role of children in contact-induced language change is relatively under-explored, as most work on language contact and language change investigates adult speakers. Little is known about when and how the adult speakers developed their speech repertoires, or how their speech styles as children interact with long-term change. Yet in several contexts children learning (a) first language(s) have clearly played a role in contact-induced language change, and recent studies have detailed the contribution of children using empirical data and/or historical records. It appears that children’s roles differ according to context, where contextual factors include age, type of variation, medium of interaction (sign or oral), dialect contact, new dialect or language formation, and/or different degrees of input in the language being acquired. This course will bring together studies of children’s language development in several types of contact situation and attempt to provide a synthesis which links sociolinguistic situations, socio- and psycholinguistic processes, and linguistic outcomes. We will discuss evidence of children’s roles in the nativization of pidgins and creoles (oral and sign), mixed languages, and dialect formation, linking these to evidence of children’s language processing in other instances of first language acquisition.

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