Childhood Bilingualism: Aspects of Linguistic, Cognitive, and Social Development

By Peter Homel; Michael Palij et al. | Go to book overview

3
The Second-Language Learner in the Context of the Study of Language Acquisition

Kenji Hakuta Yale University

How can the study of second language learners illuminate the fundamental issues of development? That is the central concern of this conference, one whose manyfaceted responses will be slowly revealed through the papers presented. I would like to address specifically the problem of grammar in the acquisition of a second language after the primary language has been established. The problem can be put into the perspective presented by Lila Gleitman in the 10th Anniversary special issue of the journal Cognition ( Gleitman, 1981). Essentially, Gleitman argues for the informative value of three different kinds of variations in investigating the differential roles of maturation and environment in determining language acquisition. First, there are variations in the quality of the language sample available to the child. These include the traditional variables used in the investigation of motherese. Second, there are variations in the interpretive information from the learner's perspective (for example, how does a blind child interpret the verb see?) And third, there are variations in the learner's endowment, specifically the ability to represent language. Although everyone would have their own pet variations to add to this list (my own being cross-linguistic variations, more to be said on this later), the framework is very useful in discussing where the study of second language acquisition fits in with respect to major issues in language acquisition.

With regard to the first point, there are probably more variations in linguistic environments for second language (L2) acquisition than for first language (L1) acquisition. Most L2 studies are concerned with "naturalistic" situations, that is, cases where the learners are not formally tutored in the second language. These studies bear the closest resemblance to the L1 input situation, although the source of input can vary from adults to peers. Then, there are cases where

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