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Sla and theory construction


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Sla and theory construction

  1. 1. SLA Research: Where are we? GRETA Conference September 2000 Geoff Jordan, ESADE Idomas
  2. 2. What phenomena does SLA theory try to explain?• Egs of phenomena: tides, cancer, 2nd world war, car rage• In SLA: People whose native language is X acquire a second language Y• What is acquired? Skinner: a set of habits, Chomsky: a type of knowledge, Bachman: a set of competences
  3. 3. Phenomena to be explained 1. The role of internal mechanisms a) Language specific: how similar are 1st. & 2nd language acquisition processes? (Is UG available?) b)Cognitive: is SLA similar to learning of any other complex skill? 2. The role of the first language: the phenomenon of transfer. 3. The role of psychological variables: how do individual characteristics of the learner affect the learning process? 4. The role of social and environmental factors Mitchell and Myles, 1998, P.40
  4. 4. Towell & Hawkins’(1994)Transfer - of grammatical properties from the L1 mental grammar into the mentalgrammar that learners construct for the L2.Staged Development - L2 learners go through a series of “transitional stages” towards thetarget language, i.e. from the initial-state grammars that L2 learners construct (often heavilyinfluenced by transfer) they subsequently go through stages of development towards thetarget language.Systematicity - in the growth of L2 knowledge across learners, i.e. learners from differentL1 backgrounds acquiring an L2 under different conditions of exposure - naturalistic versusclassroom - often go through the same stages of development.Variability - in learners’ intuitions about and production of the L2 at various stages of L2development. These seem to allow for more than one variant for a given constructionwhere the target language has only one form.Incompleteness - most L2 learners do not achieve native-like competence. Thisphenomenon is referred to as fossilisation by Selinker (1972) and as incompleteness bySchacter (1990).
  5. 5. Problems facing SLA Theory• Proliferation• Objectives• Domain• Contradictions• Methodology
  6. 6. Research Methodology: Rationalism or Relativism?• Rationalists and Empiricists• The problem of induction• Positivists• Popper • P1 → TT1 → EE → P2 → TT2 P = problem TT = tentative theory EE = empirical experiments to test the theory
  7. 7. Problems with the Falsifiability Criterion• Observation data & instrumentation are theory-laden• Underdetermination• Historically, not applied - thank goodness!
  8. 8. More criticism of falsifiability• Kuhn• Feyerabend• Lakatos• Lauden• Bloor: The Strong Programme in the Sociology of Science• Post-modernism and Constructivism
  9. 9. Postmodernism“Postmodernism begins with a loss of faith in the dreams of modernism. In place ofthe lost dream of modernism, postmodernism gives us a new vocabulary, a newlanguage game, for helping us notice dimensions of experience that were obscuredby the modernist vision. Its a dynamic language game, with meanings evolvingand changing. And when you are within this language people may well say thingsthat you will want to challenge. Being post-modern is not endorsing a dogma. It isjust a new language game, but it is a powerful language game that calls attentionto dimensions of our reality that were obscured in our forgetting, our denial, suchas the political dynamics behind publications which then become recognised astruth. (Shawver 2000,
  10. 10. Constuctivism “Constructivists are deeply committed to the view that what we take to be objective knowledge and truth is the result of perspective. Knowledge and truth are created, not discovered by mind. They emphasise the pluralistic and plastic character of reality – pluralistic in the sense that reality is expressible in a variety of symbol and language systems; plastic in the sense that reality is stretched and shaped to fit purposeful acts of intentional human agents. They endorse the view that “contrary to common sense, there is no unique “real world” that pre-exists and is independent of human mental activity and human symbolic language.” (Bruner, 1986) In place of a realist view of theories and knowledge, constructivists emphasise the instrumental and practical function of theory construction and knowing” (Denzin and Lincoln 1998)
  11. 11. Against Relativism• We can’t formalize the scientific method• There’s no philosophical refutation of radical scepticism• Don’t confuse sociology of science with philosophy of science• Incomensurability not a big problem• Ditto theory-laden observation and theory complexity
  12. 12. The Rationalist/Objectivist Case• Logic• There’s a real world out there• Popper’s “World 3”• Consensibility & Consensuality - Ziman• Universal, Communal, Sceptical, Disinterested - Merton• Is SLA (linguistics, sociolinguistics, psychology, neurolinguistics, cognitive science, social psychology) scientific?
  13. 13. 1. An SLA Research MethodologyI propose that researchers working in the field of SLA should agree on the followingassumptions and recommendations: • An external world exists. We can study different phenomena in this world, make meaningful statements about them, and improve our knowledge of them. This amounts to a minimally realist epistemology. • Research is inseperable from theory. All observation involves theorising. As Popper (1959) argued, there is no way we can talk about something sensed and not interpreted. • Research is fundamentally concerned with problem-solving. • We cannot formalize “the scientific method”. Science is not just experimentation in a laboratory, and it is not just mathematics and physics. As McLaughlin (1987) says, there is no one road to theory (we do not have to start with the careful accumulation of data, for example), we need a multimethod approach. • Research reports, discussion and theory should be consensible in Ziman’s term: each message should not be so obscure that the recipient is unable either to give it full assent or to offer well-founded objections. • The exchange of these logically consistent messages should refer to recognisable and reproducible events within the experience of individual scientists. • All human beings are interchangeable as observers. • Theories are accepted on a basis that is independent of the social and personal characteristics of their originators. • Theories are not personal property; individuals or groups of research workers are obliged to communicate their results to the SLA community. • Each researcher has the duty to ensure that the basis of his or her research is correct.
  14. 14. • All published research should be subjected to a high level of criticism by the SLA community. As stated above “Ill-defined terms, ambiguities, unwarranted conclusions, must be uncovered by the community as they strive for the clearest, simplest expression of the theory.”• Propositions made by those conducting SLA research should be capable of being subjected to an empirical test. This implies that hypotheses should be capable of being supported or refuted, and that research should be done in such a way that it can be observed, evaluated and replicated by others.• Ad hoc hypotheses should not be introduced into theories.• Hypotheses are the beginning of attempts to solve problems. They may start as questions, but eventually they will attempt some tentative explanation, usually in terms of two or more related variables.• Variables should be operationally defined.• Hypotheses should lead to theories that organise and explain a certain group of phenomena and the hypotheses about them.• Theories are explanation of phenomena and are the final goal of research. Descriptions and low-level theories should be unified in a general theory. What McLaughnan (1987) calls “proto-theories”, and Long (1985b) has called "storehouse" theories are only a collection of (often unrelated) generalisations about phenomena (e.g. “Adult SL learners learn faster than children but attain lower levels of ultimate proficiency” or “Learners pass through a certain developmental sequence of structures”) and if these generalisations are not unified under a general theory, they lead nowhere – they do not provide a coherent explanation of the phenomena we want to explain. Thus it is necessary to try to fit together the bits.
  15. 15. Contrastive Analysis• Structural linguistics + Behaviourism• Learning of L1 will affect learning of L2• Differences between L1 and L2 = problems• Research results v. poor: unpredicted errors occurred, predicted errors didn’t occur. Dulay & Burt (1975) 5% of errors explained by CA.• NB: Only addresses 1 of phenomena, but offers a coherent, testable theory with crystal clear pedagogical implications
  16. 16. Chomsky’s UG• Chomsky’s review of Skinner (57) a crucial turning point.• Language is inventive, learning is cognitive• All languages share universal principles - linguist’s task is to describe them• Language learning simplified since we have an innate mechanism (Poverty of stimulus)• Principles & Parameters• UG refers to FLA
  17. 17. Chomsky and SLA• Principles and Parameters = a description• The LAD = an explanation• Is UG available to SL learners? – No access – Partial access – Full access
  18. 18. Comments on Generative Grammar• Addresses the “What” & “How” questions• A very strong theory• Grammaticality judgements “problematic”• Falsification difficult• Learning not over by 5• General learning theory could explain it• Limited scope
  19. 19. Meanwhile, in SLA the shift is to a cognitive paradigm• Error Analysis (Pit Corder 67): errors indicate learners’ attempts to figure out the L2• Morpheme Studies (Dulay & Burt 72-75): natural order of acquisition regardless of L1• Selinker (72): Interlanguage• Systematic staged development in SLA is a common phenomenon
  20. 20. Krashen’s Monitor Model“Humans acquire language in only one way - by receiving comprehensible messages”1. Acquisition-Learning2. The Natural Order3. The Monitor4. Input5. The Affective Filter• A broad, powerful, intuitively appealing theory with clear - radical - pedagogical implications
  21. 21. Problems with Krashen’s Hypotheses• No role for transfer• No account of effect of age• Monitor only used for production?????• Terms are ill-defined, and circular so the set is incoherent• Lack of empirical content, so untestable• No linguistic theory
  22. 22. More Cognitive work• The Multidimensional Model (Pienemann)• The Competition Model (Bates & MacWinney)• Wolfe Quintero• Bialystock & Sharwwod Smith: Implicit & Explicit knowledge• McLaughlin: Automaticity & Restructuring• Schmidt: Noticing
  23. 23. Long’s Interaction Hypothesis• The negotiation of meaning through repetitions, confirmation, comprehension, & clarification checks, re-casting, etc. helps to make input comprehensible• For input -> intake there must be focus on form (which negotiation of meaning helps)• Swain: Canadian immersion learners showed that input not enough. Learners need comprehensible output.
  24. 24. Sociolinguistics• Age: older is faster but younger is better• Aptitude: probably very important• Motivation: intragrative & instrumental• Personality: no clear evidence• Cognitive style: NLP & Learner strategies• Shumann’s Acculturalisation/Pidginisation approach: Alberto’s social & psychological distance explains his lack of success• Sociocultural perspective: Vygotsky
  25. 25. Post-Modernism & Constructivism• SLA must be liberated from its science envyPostmodernism rejects the idea of an objective reality. Reality is a socialconstruction, the product of interactions between actors in a social setting. Suchfactors as social structure, class, and power relations play an essential role in thecreation of reality. There are a multiplicity of realities, and none of these realities has any more legitimate claim than any other to being viewed as the reality.• Lantoff, Van Lier, Pennycock, Block, Firth, Wagner, et al: relativist approach to SLA research: ethnography of communication and hermeneutic studies• So a developing war between quantative & qualitative research methods