Order of acquisition


Order of acquisition

The order of acquisition is a concept in language acquisition that all learners of a given language will learn the grammatical features of that language in roughly the same order. This phenomenon has been confirmed for people learning their first language, and also, to some extent, for people learning a second language. The reason the order of acquisition is less stable in second language learners is not known, but is thought to be due either to the effects of language transfer or other interference by mental processes that second language learners have developed.

Contents

Research background

Researchers have found a very consistent order in the acquisition of first language structures by children, and this has drawn a great deal of interest from SLA scholars. Considerable effort has been devoted to testing the "identity hypothesis", which asserts that first-language and second-language acquisition conform to the same patterns. This has not been confirmed, perhaps because second-language learners' cognitive and affective states are so much more advanced, and perhaps because it is not true. Orders of acquisition in SLA often resemble those found in first language acquisition, and may have common neurological causes, but there is no convincing evidence for this. It is not safe to say that the order of L1 acquisition has any easy implications for SLA.

Some research suggests that most learners begin their acquisition process with a "silent period", in which they speak very little if at all. It is said that for some, this is a period of language shock, in which the learner actively rejects the incomprehensible input of the new language. However, research has shown that many "silent" learners are engaging in private speech (sometimes called "self-talk"). While appearing silent, they are rehearsing important survival phrases and lexical chunks. These memorized phrases are then employed in the subsequent period of formulaic speech. Whether by choice or compulsion, other learners have no silent period and pass directly to formulaic speech. This speech, in which a handful of routines is used to accomplish basic purposes, often shows few departures from L2 morphosyntax. It eventually gives way to a more experimental phase of acquisition, in which the semantics and grammar of the target language are simplified and the learners begin to construct a true interlanguage.[1]

The nature of the transition between formulaic and simplified speech is disputed. Some, including Stephen Krashen, have argued that there is no cognitive relationship between the two, and that the transition is abrupt. Thinkers influenced by recent theories of the lexicon have preferred to view even native speaker speech as heavily formulaic, and interpret the transition as a process of gradually developing a broader repertoire of chunks and a deeper understanding of the rules which govern them. Some studies have supported both views, and it is likely that the relationship depends in great part on the learning styles of individual learners.

A flurry of studies took place in the 1970s, examining whether a consistent order of morpheme acquisition could be shown. Most of these studies did show fairly consistent orders of acquisition for selected morphemes. For example, among learners of English the cluster of features including the suffix "-ing", the plural, and the copula were found to consistently precede others such as the article, auxiliary, and third person singular.[citation needed] However, these studies were widely criticized as not paying sufficient attention to overuse of the features (idiosyncratic uses outside what are obligatory contexts in the L2), and sporadic but inconsistent use of the features. More recent scholarship prefers to view the acquisition of each linguistic feature as a gradual and complex process. For that reason most scholarship since the 1980s has focused on the sequence, rather than the order, of feature acquisition.

Sequence of acquisition

A number of studies have looked into the sequence of acquisition of pronouns by learners of various Indo-European languages. These are reviewed by Ellis (1994), pp. 96–99.[vague] They show that learners begin by omitting pronouns or using them indiscriminately: for example, using "I" to refer to all agents. Learners then acquire a single pronoun feature, often person, followed by number and eventually by gender. Little evidence of interference from the learner's first language has been found; it appears that learners use pronouns based entirely on their inferences about target language structure.

Studies on the acquisition of word order in German have shown that most learners begin with a word order based on their native language. This indicates that certain aspects of interlanguage syntax are influenced by the learners' first language, although others are not.

Research on the sequence of acquisition of words is exhaustively reviewed by Nation (2001).[vague] Kasper and Rose have thoroughly researched the sequence of acquisition of pragmatic features.[2] In both fields, consistent patterns have emerged and have been the object of considerable theorizing.

See also

Notes

References

  • Kasper; Rose, K. R. (2002). "Pragmatic Development in a Second Language". Language Learning (Wiley-Blackwell) 52 (Supplement 1). 
  • Seidner, S. S. (1982). Ethnicity, Language, and Power from a Psycholinguistic Perspective. Centre de recherche sur le pluralinguisme. 

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