Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning
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Linguistic background 1: Competing conceptions of language and second language learning. Dr. Douglas Fleming University of Ottawa. what is language? originating from gestures, song or something else? oral predates written, but by how much? is language god-given?

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Linguistic background 1: Competing conceptions of language and second language learning

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Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning

Linguistic background 1:Competing conceptions of language and second language learning

Dr. Douglas Fleming

University of Ottawa


Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning

what is language?

  • originating from gestures, song or something else?

  • oral predates written, but by how much?

  • is language god-given?

  • is language based on innate structures found within the brain and transmitted genetically?

  • or is it a socially-learned set of conventions?

  • what is the ritualistic importance of language?

  • is it possible to fully communicate across languages if reality is divided up by languages in unique ways?

  • is there a hierarchy of discrete languages?

  • nature vs. nurture?

  • what are the links to culture, intelligence, nation-building and power?


Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning

according to Fromkin and Rodman (2000):

  • language distinguishes us as human

  • based on a sound system

  • but it is more complex (e.g. sign language)

  • and it is more than a set of sounds corresponding to objects or actions

  • arbitrary relationships

  • obeys general conventions

  • people must understand the same correspondences


Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning

  • languages change over time and space (Sassure)

  • language is a product of behavior (Skinner)

  • language is an infinite and creative system that is hard wired (Chomsky)

  • otherwise, how we can produce sentences that have never existed before, or understand sentences we have never heard before?

  • Language is a system of discourse that follows social conventions (Halliday)

  • otherwise, how can we explain why the same words or structures will convey different meanings in different social situations?


Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning

what is second language learning?

  • Most second language acquisition models are based on the assumption that the mind has already formed a more or less solid basis for language competency and performance in the first language and that the essential task in learning a second is transference.


Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning

Role of the first language

  • SL learners develop an interlanguage between the first and the second languages that has a systematic grammar influenced by both

  • the learner will transfer aspects of the first language into this interlanguage

  • as transfer occurs, the learner will often make errors that can be:

  • lexical (e.g. choosing the wrong word because it is similar to one in the first language),

  • morphological (e.g. placing correct tense markers in incorrect places) or

  • syntactical (e.g. using incorrect word order)


Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning

Competency models

  • learning the second language is not just a matter of learning vocab and grammar

  • the learner must master communicative competence, which is the ability to purposely use the L2 in social contexts

  • various models of the different aspects of second language learning have been advanced, the best known of which are based on those proposed by Hymes (1971), which were, in turn, based on Chomsky's model of language.

  • competency models are based on criterion or skill-based conceptions of education. 'What you know' is not as important as 'how you use what you know'.


Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning

  • Hymes model was subsequently further adapted by Canale and Swain (1980) into what has become a highly influential four-part language competency model:

  • linguistic: the more purely language elements; structures and grammar

  • socio-cultural: the social and cultural content and assumptions underlying language use

  • strategic: what strategies a user of the language utilizes to overcome difficulties or enhance communication

  • discoursal: what forms of discourse and conventional use is the communication framed in


Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning

Functional linguists have critiqued the way in which competency models have:

  • arbitrarily divided language into contradictory subsets and

  • the way in which these models have been used to privilege concepts of standardized and idealized discreet languages.


Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning

Automatic processing

  • an important assumption, based on cognitive psychology, is that the pedagogical goal is to move the learner from voluntary to automatic processing

  • assuming that one knows how to enhance automatic processing pedagogically, at what point does this occur? How, in short, do you account for the differences between various instances of performance?

  • Most clinical research indicates that learners are better able to use an aspect of language when they are consciously focused on it

  • much of this is has been related to the concepts of higher and lower cognitive functioning (Bloom's taxonomy)


Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning

The nature of interlanguage

  • languages do not exhibit the same sets of phonology; many sounds in one language do not occur in another; sounds that are common to most languages are called 'unmarked'; those that are uncommon are called 'marked'

  • most learners usually find it easier to acquire sound patterns that are different from those in their first language

  • this is due to the fact that learners will pay attention to patterns that are markedly different from the ones in their L1, often assuming that similar patterns are in fact the same


Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning

  • languages also differ in how words are divided into syllables (syllabification), which syllables are stressed, and in how words are ordered (syntax);

  • these phenomena ('similarity differential rates', 'marked differentials, null subjects, verb movement, and differences in syllabification, stress, and syntax) are often referred to as 'first language interference

  • in order to learn new structural patterns when learning a new language, the learner must 'reset the parameters' of his or her own language use.


Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning

  • there are important differences between languages on the basis of morphology

  • SL research has focused on developmental order

  • most learners of English, for example:

  • learn 窶話e' earlier than those learning English as a first language

  • acquire the possessive morpheme " 's " later

  • however, much depends on the individual and the first language

  • research on the learning of syntax has turned on the question as to whether or not a learner is making errors on the basis of not being able to 'represent' a structure at a deeper level ('impaired representation'), or that they simply don't know how to represent this structure on the 'surface' ('missing surface inflection')


Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning

Learner factors

  • age is often touted as an important factor in language acquisition; this is both true and not true

  • beyond the 'critical period' (puberty) it is usually difficult for learners to acquire native-like phonology; in other words, after the brain stops growing, one never loses one's accent.

  • however, there have been many documented cases where adults have learnt the second language to a completely fluent degree and cases where prepubescents haven't, despite attempts to do so.

  • although language use is associated with various parts of the brain, there have been many cases where individuals progress quite well even when these areas have been severely damaged


Linguistic background 1 competing conceptions of language and second language learning

  • adults seem to rely much more on cognitively understanding the target language than do children; hence there is clearly a place for teaching grammar (both explicitly and implicitly) in the adult classroom

  • cognitive knowledge helps adults organize and develop consistent hypotheses about how to use the language

  • children don't find rules very useful

  • however these hypotheses are only useful when there are consist rules in the target language

  • many theorists, as we shall see, have tried to come up with definitions of what an optimal set of factors would look like for L2 language learning; these factors include: individual differences; affective factors; cognitive factors; gender; and social factors


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