Tag Archives: Institute Theme
Pidgins and Creoles: Social and Cognitive Aspects

Marlyse Baptista – University of Michigan
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 3:30-5:20 pm
2333 Mason Hall

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Some of the most compelling questions in the field of pidgins and creoles consist in identifying the linguistic sources and cognitive forces that shape a given creole: why does a particular creole look and sound the way it does? Where do its linguistic properties come from? What are the original populations and languages that contributed to its genesis?  This investigation ultimately hopes to shed light on two major cognitive questions:  how does the mind pull together linguistic materials from distinct sources to form a creole? What is the nature of the cognitive processes involved in creole formation?  In exploring some of these queries, this particular course will focus on the processes of convergence, relexification and grammaticalization and will contrast, regarding the latter point, general theories of grammaticalization (Lehmann, 2002; Hopper & Traugott, 2003; Fischer, 2007) with their generative (Van Gelderen, 2004) and usage-based (Tomasello, 2005; (Boyer & Harder, 2012) counterparts.  Comparing these approaches will allow us to gauge how each framework accounts for specific aspects of creole grammars and to assess their contribution to our understanding of how creole languages develop.   Besides its focus on cognitive issues in creole formation, other major topics in this course will include:

1) Socio-historical contexts of creole genesis, how a distinct history of population contact results in distinct structural outcomes;

2) examination of the morpho-syntactic properties of a set of creole languages;

3) contributions of L1 and L2 to the emergence of creole specific features.

Students enrolling in this class should have taken and introductory course in linguistics.

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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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