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David Birdsong, Chair 201 W 21St Street, B7600, HRH 2.114A, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-5531

Fall 2004


Unique Days Time Location Instructor
34730 TTh
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
HRH 2.106C

Course Description

The focus of this course is on theoretical approaches to second language acquisition phenomena. The most fundamental question we address is: in what ways is L2 acquisition like L1 acquisition? Not unexpectedly, different answers to the question will be given by developmental psychologists, syntacticians, successful learners, and unsuccessful learners. And as will be evident from the course readings, this question can be approached from a variety of perspectives, e.g., experiential, cognitive, and linguistic-theoretical. Moreover, the answer may depend on whether one focuses on deep syntax or surface syntax; phonology or phonetics; the process of learning or the product of learning; native-like speaking proficiency or native-like intuitions for grammaticality (aka "performance" vs. "competence"). These are just a few of the variables one must be prepared to take into account when approaching the study of L2 acquisition. This course seeks to acquaint students with the following issues, among others: COGNITION AND INFORMATION PROCESSING. Is adult L2A "special" or can it be modelled in terms of domain-general cognition? Are differences between first and second language learning (e.g. variations in success) attributable to child-adult differences in problem solving, decision making, biases, etc.? What is the role of cognitive factors in maturational effects on language learning? In what ways do the cognitive and linguistic approaches overlap, and in what ways do they diverge? LEARNABILITY. Are all features of the target language learnable, given positive input? Or is negative evidence necessary in some cases? What are the constraints (innate & acquired) on second-language learnability? Relatedly, is there a logical problem for second language acquisition that is comparable to the logical problem of first language acquisition? MATURATION. Does a critical period constrain success in both L2A and L1A? Is nativelike attainment possible in adult L2A? Is neurobiological maturation the causal factor in the general lack of L2A success? Are all target-language linguistic features equally difficult to learn after puberty? THEORY/METHODOLOGY INTERFACE. What is the proper locus of inquiry in second language acquisition research? What kinds of data "count" in theoretical research? By what criteria are theories to be evaluated? How may data gathering/elicitation and analysis be enhanced? In this course we are not concerned with practical issues in language teaching. However, the course does contribute to an understanding of learners' potentials and limitations, which can inform judgments in instructional contexts. Students should have at least basic knowledge of modern linguistics. In order to understand experimental research, it is helpful to have familiarity with fundamentals of cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics, and experimental methodology.

Grading Policy

Presentations 30% Participation 10% Mid term 30% Final project 30%


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