February 28, 2015

Excerpts from a book on second language acquisition

Second Language Acquisition by Susan M. Gass (C) 2013, Taylor & Francis, 4th ed

It's a comprehensive literature review or overview of the academic research on second language acquisition, citing over 1000 references. Very complete, yet boring and verbose. The following are excerpts that I personally think are interesting. (Some text can be found at archive.org.)

The basic assumption in SLA research is that learners create a language system, known as an interlanguage (IL). This system is composed of numerous elements, not the least of which are elements from the NL and the TL.
Central to the concept of IL is the concept of fossilization, which generally refers to the cessation of learning. The Random House Dictionary... "to become permanently established in the interlanguage of a second language learner in a form that is deviant from the target-language norm and that continues to appear in performance regardless of further exposure to the target language."

English does not allow resumptive pronouns in relative clauses (I saw the woman who she is your son's teacher). p.71
pronominal reflexes (or pronoun retention/resumptive pronoun), a phenomenon--common in many languages (including informal English)

Table 4.1 Hierarchy of Difficulty (Source: Adapted from Stockwell, Bowen & Martin, 1965)

DifferentiationEnglish L1, Italian L2: to know versus sapere/conoscere ?most difficult
New categoryJapanese L1, English L2: article system
Absent categoryEnglish L1, Japanese L2: article system
CoalescingItalian L1, English L2: the verb to know
CorrespondenceEnglish L1, Italian L2: plurality ?easiest; two forms are used in roughly the same way

In general, children have better phonology, but older learners often achieve better L2 syntax

the notion of equipotentiality, expressed by Schachter (1988). She pointed out that children are capable of learning any language.

Lexical categories...: nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and so forth. These are referred to as content words. Functional categories... (e.g., articles, possessives), or they may be categories consisting of grammatical morphemes (e.g., plurals, tense markers).

language learning is largely lexical learning (e.g., Chomsky, 1989) (Some notes on economy of derivation and representation. MIT Working Papers in Linguistics, 10, 43-74)

Oral repetition correlated with general proficiency, but visual repetition (writing words over and over, memorizing the spelling letter by letter, writing new words and translation equivalents repeatedly) negatively predicted vocabulary size and general proficiency.

A comparable example took place at a G8 summit in Okinawa, Japan. Prior to the summit, Prime Minister Mori of Japan spent time brushing up on his English. Upon meeting President Clinton, he apparently became flustered and, instead of saying, How are you?, said instead: Who are you? President Clinton responded: I'm Hillary Clinton's husband. However, Prime Minister Mori, unaware that he had asked the wrong question, was anticipating a response something like I'm fine, and you? and responded I am too.
Thanks go to Caroline Latham for bringing this example to our attention.

Focused attention was most beneficial for syntax and least for the lexicon. In addition, there was a diminished effect for proficiency, with focused attention having a greater effect in early stages of learning.

The original formulation of CPH (Critical Period Hypothesis) came from Lennenberg (1967), who noted that "automatic acquisition from mere exposure to a given language seems to disappear [after puberty], and foreign languages have to be taught and learned through a conscious and labored effort. Foreign accents cannot be overcome easily after puberty"... The Sensitive Period Hypothesis predicts sensitivity, but not absolute drop-offs, such that a learning decline might be gradual.

Their (Bialystok and Hakuta (1994)) recalculations also revealed a deterioration in proficiency starting after age 20--well after the proposed biological changes suggested by the CPH.

Examples of easy structures are word order in simple sentences and pronoun gender; examples of difficult structures are articles and subcategorization features. Easy structures did not show age-related effects, whereas difficult structures did. He (DeKeyser (2000)) ties this to explicit and implicit learning, claiming that younger learners have intact the ability for implicit and explicit learning, whereas adults have lost their ability to learn implicitly.

DeKeyser and Larson-Hall (2005)...: Children necessarily learn implicitly; adults necessarily learn largely explicitly. As a result, adults show an initial advantage because of shortcuts provided by the explicit structure, but falter in those areas in which explicit learning is ineffective, that is, where rules are too complex or probabilistic in nature to be apprehended fully with explicit rules. Children, on the other hand, cannot use shortcuts to the representation of structure, but eventually reach full native speaker competence through long-term implicit learning from massive input. This long-term effect of age of onset is most obvious to the casual observer in pronunciation, but on closer inspection appears to be no less robust in the domain of grammar.

The primary difference between children and adults is in the mastery of phonology, which can hardly be due to input differences.

Studies indicate that motivational arousal is greatest for tasks that are assumed to be of moderate difficulty (see the discussion in Brehm and Self, 1989)

Anxiety is not always a negative factor in learning. ...: low levels help, whereas high levels hurt.

Hoffman (1986) notes that anxiety can direct attention away from meaning and toward pure form (acoustic properties, order of presentation, phonetic similarities).

strategy instruction was found to be substantially more effective when ... when the strategies targeted reading, speaking, and vocabulary, rather than writing, listening, and grammar.

Although adults show a faster speed of learning an L2, children seem to have an overall advantage in terms of ultimate attainment, at least for phonology and, possibly, syntax.

Table 18.1 Definitions of Bilingualism

Cook (2005, Multi-competence: Black-hole or worm-hole?) argued that there are effects of multilingualism on how individuals process their NL, even individuals with a minimal knowledge of an L2.

in early L3 production, certain functions, such as prepositions, articles, and conjunctions, tend to come from the L2 and not the NL. This may occur even when the two languages are not phonetically similar.

Cenoz (2001)... cross-linguistic influence... linguistic distance is one factor. This was the case for all learners, regardless of language dominance... Age is another (factor), with older learners showing more cross-linguistic influence than younger children. There are language-related factors as well, with more transfer of content words than functional words.

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