The Neurobiology of Learning: Perspectives from Second Language Acquisition

The Neurobiology of Learning: Perspectives from Second Language Acquisition

The Neurobiology of Learning: Perspectives from Second Language Acquisition

The Neurobiology of Learning: Perspectives from Second Language Acquisition

Synopsis

This book constitutes a timely contribution to the existing literature by presenting a relatively comprehensive, neurobiological account of certain aspects of second language acquisition. It represents the collaborative efforts of members of the Neurobiology of Language Research Group in the Applied Linguistics and TESL Department at UCLA. Members of the group are trained in neurobiology and then use this knowledge to develop biological accounts of various aspects of applied linguistics. The volume avoids the corticocentric bias that characterizes many brain-language publications--both cortical and subcortical structures receive their appropriate attention. In addition, it demonstrates that enough is presently known about the brain to inform our conceptualizations of how humans acquire second languages, thus, it provides a refreshingly novel, highly integrative contribution to the (second) language acquisition literature. The goal of the research program was based on the need to draw more links between the neurobiological mechanisms and second language acquisition. As such, the book promotes a neurobiology of language that starts with the brain and moves to behavior. The fundamental insights presented should guide second language acquisition researchers for years to come.

Excerpt

In a seminal paper in second language acquisition, Long (1990) argued that any theory of second language requires the specification of a mechanism to account for the acquisition and development of second language (L2) knowledge and skills. This book is about just such mechanism(s). Like all research on language acquisition and processing mechanisms, this book contains much speculation. Traditional psycholinguistic, neurolinguistic, and cognitive approaches to second language acquisition (SLA) operate by observing linguistic behavior in experimental, clinical, or naturalistic settings, and based on patterns in those data, mechanisms are inferred. These inferences are speculations. Additionally, they are generally abstract characterizations of learner behavior. But to the extent that they actually specify what goes on in the learner's mind/brain, they remain speculations. However, speculation from behavior to mechanism is so standard, ubiquitous and expected in psycholinguistic, neurolinguistic, and cognitive studies that it is frequently unnoticed. Thus, if research procedures and methods of data analysis raise no objections, then the speculations from behavior to mechanism are seen as reasonable and appropriate. However, in this book, we work in the opposite direction. On the basis of well-researched neural mechanisms for motivation, procedural memory, declarative memory, memory consolidation, and attention, we speculate about what language learning behavior could be subserved by these mechanisms. Figure 1 illustrates the difference.

In this book, we explain learning on the basis of domain-general neural mechanisms. Much language acquisition research, particularly in SLA, has followed traditional linguistics in postulating a domain-specific mechanism, a Language Acquisition Device (LAD) or a Universal Grammar (UG). However, after several decades of research within this paradigm, is not clear that UG exists, and if it does exist, it is not clear that it applies to SLA. Additionally, research on the brain has found it very difficult to identify any areas or circuits . . .

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