Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 7

Baltatescu Anca MA 1, Foreign language learning and aquisition

17.01.2014

Toward a Sociocognitive Approach to Second Language Acquisition


by DWIGHT ATKINSON

By sociocognitive, he means a view of language and language acquisition as simultaneously occurring and interactively constructed both in the head and in the world.

His article is structured as follows:

1. First, he develops a view of language and its acquisition as a social phenomena 2. Then he describes the cognitive nature of language and its acquisition, focusing especially on recent developments in connectionism. 3. Third, he introduces sociocognitive views of language and posit a social interpretation of connectionism as bridging the gap between cognition and social action. 4. Fourth, he discusses sociocognitive perspectives on first language acquisition. 5. Fifth, he describes the cognitivist biases of much SLA research, then suggests how sociocognitive approaches can help overcome them. 6. In the end he considers the implications of the perspective he developed in this paper.

Theories about acquisition: The lonely cactus the mainstream view of SLA the cactus sits in the middle of a lonely scene and waits for the life-giving sustenance [input] to come pouring in. After this the real action begins and the cactus (learner) miraculously grows and changes. The tropical rainforest other fields than SLA (language socialization and cultural anthropology) fundamentally integrated world, densely packed where you would find it hard to move through, constantly humid and teeming with life, where every organism operates in complex relationship with every other organism. Dwight criticizes the lonely cactus view of SLA and offers a perspective that integrates learners, teachers, acquisitional context - both of situation and of culture, social practices, products, tools and worlds, conceptualizing SLA as a situated, integrated, complex sociocognitive process.

a) b) c) d) e)

LANGUAGE AND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AS SOCIAL PHENOMENA LANGUAGE AND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AS COGNITIVE PHENOMENOA LANGUAGE AS SOCIOCOGNITIVE PHENOMENON LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AS SOCIOCOGNITIVE PHENOMENON SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AS SOCIOCOGNITIVE PHENOMENON

Baltatescu Anca MA 1, Foreign language learning and aquisition


a. LANGUAGE AND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AS SOCIAL PHENOMENA

17.01.2014

People use language to act in and on their worlds. None of the activities they undertake makes sense apart from a fundamentally social environment. All language is language in use. We might be cognitively predisposed to learn and use language, but only as a social tool. Structuralism and Chomsky completely abstracted language from its social setting and declared its ontological (or at least methodological) self-sufficiency. We ought to take into consideration that grammar (rightly understood) is in itself a social accomplishment and social tool grammatical features both function socially and are influenced by and shaped in interactional context: o o o how grammar organizes social interaction how grammatical structure contributes to conversational turn-taking; how social interaction organizes grammar how grammatical structure varies, changes and is emergent across social settings and socio-historical time; how grammar is a mode of social interaction hoe people co-construct utterances using grammar as a shared resource. (Cambridges Studies in Interactional Linguistics series Ochs, Schegloff & Thompson, 1996)

Beyond grammar, socially-oriented linguists identified phenomena which are worth accounting for:

1. Politeness, identity, and presentation of self - negotiate and maintain relationships between people. 2. Perspective taking and contextualization cueing - a spoken utterance like 'I hate you' might be incomprehensible without some of the following: intonation, loudness, voice quality or emphasis. 3. Language-in-context: Language never occurs apart from a rich set of situational/sociocultural/ historical/existential correlates, and to separate it out artificially is to denature it. 4. Turn-taking, participation structures, and opportunity structures. 5. Speech as an interactional accomplishment. 6. Social indexicality this notion, broadly construed, suggests the use of language to orient oneself and others in the world taking meaning as much from their contextual surroundings as from their literal sense

Just as language is social, so is acquisition. As with other social practices, new-borns are actively inducted into languaging (Becker, 1988) from day one, or almost certainly before (Foster, 1990; Locke, 1993, 1995). Such cognitive potentials are realized in extremely rich, nurturing social activities and contexts. Quite opposed to the Chomskyan poverty of the stimulus argument, a first principle of L1 acquisition should therefore be the richness of the context. Bourdieu (1991), instead of telling the child what he [sic] must do, tells him what he is, and thus leads him to become durably what he has to be

Baltatescu Anca MA 1, Foreign language learning and aquisition

17.01.2014

A second principle of L1 acquisition should therefore be the social input (or insertion Gee, 1995) principle. Input is used here to denote that the child itself is input/inserted into an ongoing stream of social interaction that supports language development at every turn.

Gee (1995) described additional principles by which L1 acquisition takes place, related to its rich social environment: o o The routine principle: an activity one does not yet understand must be repeated and routinized or ritualized, because rituals freeze meaning for the learners observation. The public principle: meanings of the parts of the new systems must be initially rendered public and overt, so the learner can see the connection between signs and their interpretations. o The context-variability principle: the learner will initially tie meanings to specific contexts or experiences. Appreciating wider meaning is a matter of having multiple experiences, not (just) learning general rules, and mastery requires practice. The basic assumption underlying socialization is that children come to share the world view [and social practices] of their community through the arrangements and interactions in which they are involved, whether or not these are meant to instruct them. (Rogoff, 1990) Even if language is clearly internalized in a sense during L1 acquisition, it never ceases to be part of the learner-as-social members set of interactively constructed social tools, practices and experiences in the social world.
b. LANGUAGE AND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AS COGNITIVE PHENOMENA

Language is social as well as it is cognitive. One does not exclude the other. Language is stored in, comprehended by, produced by, and therefore reflects the basic design features of the human brain. In fact, the human cognitive apparatus is more of a virtuoso language performer. Its effective performance can only take place by virtue of a rich, interactive fund of social knowledge, in a rich social/interactional context. Thus, in the act of conversing, we not only store and retrieve linguistic and contextual information online almost instantaneously and normally with great accurac y, but we also produce, comprehend, monitor our production and comprehension, plan our next contribution, and perform myriad other operations virtually all at the same time. Language acquisition as well is obviously a cognitive phenomenon. Cognition and language develop hand in hand in early childhood, and less dramatically into the later years in several important senses their development never ceases (e.g., Kemper, 1987). Cognitive predispositions toward learning and using language (Foster, 1990; Locke, 1993, 1995) are clearly also present at the beginning of lifeinfants truly do seem to come equipped with either linguistic proto-knowledge already built in, or cognitive systems primed to learn an amazing amount linguistically in a short time.

Baltatescu Anca MA 1, Foreign language learning and aquisition

17.01.2014

One recent cognitive attempt to explain L1 acquisition is connectionism (e.g., Plunkett, 1995; Rumelhart & McClelland, 1986; cf. N. C. Ellis, 1998). Connectionist theories depend on the computational modeling of language (and other kinds of) learning via the gradual buildup of richly internetworked association potentials at the neural level which are selectively and simultaneously activated in specific patterns to perform cognitive activities, including language production and comprehension. Connectionist L1 acquisition models appear to account for how various complex language systems such as the English past tense verb-marking can be learned over time without assuming innate linguistic knowledge. A major strength of connectionist approaches to L1 acquisition is that they appear to account for empirically determined hallmarks of the acquisitional process. These hallmarks include: in the acquisition of the lexicon, semantic overextension and underextension and the vocabulary burst often seen in children during their second year; overgeneralization of past tense verb endings; the comprehensionproduction lag in language acquisition; and U-shaped growth in a number of areas. Just as importantly, perhaps, connectionist researchers have modeled interdomain language acquisition and discussed the efficacy of connectionism in accounting for the continuity hypothesis relating early lexical development to early grammatical development in English. Bates argues that grammatical generalizations (i.e., rulelike behaviors) donot arise until the system has acquired enough instances to support those generalizations.
c. LANGUAGE AS SOCIOCOGNITIVE PHENOMENON

Dwight considers that social and cognitive aspects of language have co-evolved from the beginning and work together. For example, the interactional accomplishment of propositions across individuals the remarkable ability of individuals to contribute jointly to the expression of a single idea or action. This is possible only in the presence of joint cognitiona form of intersubjectivity created and maintained on the basis of both shared (and highly-articulated) cognitive knowledge of the activity being engaged in, and a world that gives such activity a social purpose, a conventional shape (e.g., a participation structure), and an approximately agreed-upon means of linguistic expression. Sociallyoriented linguists consider conversation as the paradigm speech activity within human language-making capacity. Conversational storytelling is a highly co-constructed sociocognitive activity, with different parties exercising influence over the storys course through their responses. The effective use of any language assumes the preexistence and interactionally-achieved development of shared sociocognitive perspectives basic precondition for effective linguistic reference. Language users actively co-construct and adopt a new common referential ground. Connectionism posits that meaning/knowledge exists largely in potential form in the human cognitive apparatus. Meaning is distributed across a large number of neurons, which can make links with other specific neurons depending on the nature of the input stimulus and on what has been experienced in the past what connections have been previously trained/socialized to activate together. For example a

Baltatescu Anca MA 1, Foreign language learning and aquisition

17.01.2014

person saying Hi! while smiling at you activates in the recipient a set of previously socialized neural connections leading to the holistic understanding that this was a greeting and might trigger a similar response in the subject. Acts of cognition are substantially continuous with the social world language carries with is meaning that is only borrowed (Bakhtin) in specific instances of language use. The main point is that cognition is not a private activity that occurs exclusively in the confines of an independent, isolated cerebral space, but rather that it is at least a semipublic activity, produced as part of a substantially open system. Gee (1992) argues that cognition is both in the head and in the world and he gives the example of a city and how people move in it. Thus, meaning resides (partway) in social products, social practices and social tools, even as it resides (partway) in the brain. We must learn to see the profoundly integrative nature of the sociocognitive event. Connectionism can account for complex intertwinings of sensory and affective modalities, emergent cognitive structures, social phenomena, and language ability and use in the accomplishment of social activity. It does so in terms of the interactions of various sets of activated neuronsof neural networks that work together because of previous exposure to similar experience complexes. Thus language is rather an integral element of sociocognitive activity, the ultimate purpose of which is to perform situated action-in-the-world.

d.

LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AS SOCIOCOGNITIVE PHENOMENON

In L1 acquisition external context plays a crucial role early on. It is vital for children to be able to link particular sounds, words, phrases repetitively to the appearance of particular objects or occurrence of particular actions. At this point stating that linguistic form is input in an autonomous language learning system is inaccurate. At this stage most we can say is that both the form and the object/action are being cognitively represented in some kind of associative relationship. The notion of event representation postulates that children already have cognitively well-developed, organized associations of activity sequences, actors and objects (along with open slots) unto which different words are initially mapped, and within which they thereafter become substantially integrated. Barret and Gee say that not any external context can provide the framework and the content for language acquisition, but rather social-interactional routines through which basic context language form associations are made and internalized. After the linguistic knowledge reaches a certain critical mass for children, qualitative changes take place. Connectionist theories suggest that much if not all learning is accomplished not by progressively greater separation of the knowledge being acquired from the external world and other domains of cognitive knowledge, but by their increasing integration. It might be more accurate to say that context, rather than disappearing from the scene altogether, partly comes inside. That is, as has been widely posited by neo-Vygotskian sociocultural theorists: the fundamental dynamic of acquiring language (as well as other higher mental functions) is that formerly externalized/ social knowledge is substantially reconfigured as internalized/cognitive knowledge. Social life is becoming articulated at a cognitive level in the development of cultural models, and the cognitive and the social are growing progressively closer

Baltatescu Anca MA 1, Foreign language learning and aquisition

17.01.2014

together. Context of situation is an even wider notion which involves the increasing cognitive interarticulation of cultural models with social practices, social products and social tools. The progressive thickening of knowledge in the head by knowledge in the worldthe basic outside-in dynamic described by Shore (1996), or put yet another way, any organisms progressive adaptation to its environment is a hallmark of developmental growth. The gradual approximation by developing humans of what is in the head to what is in the world is just such an adaptive dynamic. Gee gives the examples of the terms bachelor and spinster and which are the cultural predispositions that come with them. Linguistic categories exist in relation to particular structured understandings of cultural institutions, beliefs about the world (Hanks 1996).

e.

SECOND LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AS SOCIOCOGNITIVE PHENOMENON

Neither language acquisition nor language usenor even cognized linguistic knowledgecan be properly understood without taking into account their fundamental integration into a socially-mediated world. The cognitive and the social interact, even though for scholars it is a common practice to make an argument in separating the domains. SLA has its beginnings in the cognitive psychology revolution in the 1960s. It adopted a highly cognitivist view of second language learning and places SLA mainly in the individuals head and consider social variables to be only indirect influences. In 1985 Breen plead researchers and teachers to treat second language classrooms as cultural scenes, as SLA was reducing active cognition to passive internalization and reducing language to very specific grammatical performance, thus the mainstream SLA research was asocial. He argued that the social context of learning and the social forces within it will always shape what is made available to be learned and the interaction of individual mind with external linguistic or communicative knowledge. And he gives the example of Wundt, the first experimental psychologist, who believed that he could not study higher mental processes such as reasoning, belief, thought, and language in a laboratory precisely because such processes were rooted within authentic social activity. Discourse analysts Firth and Wagner (1997) also offered a broad critique of SLA research as individualistic and mechanisticas based on a perspective that is: weighted against the social and the contextual, and heavily in favour of the individuals cognition, particularly the development of grammatical competence. This has led to an imbalance of adopted theoretical interests, priorities, foci, methodologies, perspectives resulting in distorted descriptions of and views on discourse, communication, and interpersonal meaningthe quintessential elements of language. Moreover, this has occurred even in SLA work that is concerned with discourse and interaction.

Baltatescu Anca MA 1, Foreign language learning and aquisition SLA key concepts and where they are at odds with the sociocognitive perspective

17.01.2014

1. Input Input in SLA concerns only people who have a preexisting relationship and interact in a medium which is not constrained by institutional roles, for the purpose of engaging in a relationship. What is missing in mainstream SLA is any concern whatsoever for the dominant forms of interaction in the world, and for those interactions qua interactions. This is an interaction designed to allow the NNS to produce a language sample which from a sociocognitive perspective is hardly interaction at all. 2. The language learner The language learner in mainstream SLA is something like an automaton. While most SLA researchers view its object as an internal mental process, SLA should be about language-learning human beings. Research should focus on case studies, diary studies and work that focuses on authentic interaction and language use. 3. (Scientific) Methods SLA was scientized by its practitioners, partly because it adopted cognitive psych ology and linguistics as its source disciplines. One cannot study inherently social phenomena by applying methods and approaches originally developed to describe the behavior or inanimate objects. Defendants of mainstream SLA tend to rely for their arguments more on the (nonempirical) philosophy of science, than on actual empirical accounts of science behavior. 4. Cognition In mainstream SLA cognition is a lonely process taking place within an autonomous language learning organism. Its forte is the processing of input/construction of linguistic knowledge. It serves as a bank of internal linguistic knowledge, or competence. 5. Language Language is reduced substantially to grammar, and it only represents the source of input. From a sociocognitive perspective, however, language is an abundantly rich resource for getting on in the worldfor performing social action. Language is intricately but dynamically interwoven with humans other means of ecological adaptation and activity, and removing it from that context comes at a real cost. From a sociocognitive point of view, social dimensions of language and its acquisition would represent the foundation of SLA research. Another important concept would be interaction with its full sociocognitive significance, and it would imply that interaction might not include conversation in all cases. Learners would therefore be viewed as active agents and not passive recipients, for discourses are composed of people in the first place. Language would be seen in all its rich ecological/contextual/relational worldliness and complexity, rather than its simplicity and autonomy. One acquires language not to produce materials for SLA researchers, but in order to act in a world where language is performative. A sociocognitive approach should not exclude, but rather argue the profound interdependency and integration of cognitive and social. We should account for languages integrated existence: both in the world and in the head!