SLA Theories – Innatist/ Nativist Models

w Purport to explain acquisition by positing an innate biological endowment that makes learning possible

w This is known as the Language Acquisition Device (LAD)

w To some researchers [Chomsky, Pinker, Krashen] this endowment is “language specific”

w Thus, Chomsky posits innate knowledge of substantive universals such as syntactic categories (subject, object, noun, verb) and distinctive phonological features, and of formal universals (abstract principles governing possible rules and parameters of human languages)

w In other (general) nativist theories, [O’Grady, Parker] what is held to be innate consists of general cognitive notions (dependency, adjacency, precedence, continuity, etc.) – out of which grammatical principles are built up and mechanisms used for all kinds of learning, including language learning

w For others [Dulay and Burt], the innate endowment involves both linguistic principles and general cognitive notions

w   Chomsky’s Universal Grammar (UG)

w   The Chomskyan framework is used to note various factors which purportedly support the idea that humans are innately (genetically) endowed with universal language specific knowledge

w The main argument is referred to as the “logical problem” of language acquisition:

w Without some such endowment (first or second) language learning would be impossible because the input data are insufficiently “rich” to allow acquisition ever to occur

w Much less to occur so uniformly and so quickly in about five years for child language

w And especially not if the child (or adult) were only equipped with general inductive learning procedures with which to attempt to make sense of that input

w According to the Chomskyan perspective, the input is deficient, or “poor”, in two ways:

w First, it is claimed to be degenerate in the sense that it is marred by performance features

w Examples include: false starts, slips, fragments, and ungrammaticality

w Second, and more serious, the input is “degenerate” in the sense that it is inadequate in various ways

w Most importantly, it does not contain “negative evidence”:

w Information from which the learner could work out what is not possible in a given language

w   Covert negative evidence is also unavailable, since, even if they hear ungrammatical sentences, they have no way to know which ones are acceptable and which ones unacceptable

w   Hence, the grammars that learners in fact evolve are said to be “underdetermined” by the input

w   Called “poverty of the stimulus”

w UG assumes that language consists of a set of abstract principles that characterize core grammars of all natural languages

w However, in addition to principles that are invariable across natural languages, are parameters that vary across languages

w Krashen’s Monitor Model/Monitor Theory

w One of the best known and most influential Innatist theories in SLA (through the 1970s and 1980s) is Krashen’s Monitor Model

w In its earliest incarnation, it was an attempt to reconcile two phenomena:

w First, a generalization from morpheme studies that there existed a statistically significant association between the orders of appearance of certain English grammatical morphemes, accurately supplied in obligatory contexts, in the speech and writing of SL learners of different ages, L1 backgrounds, and conditions

w Second, disturbances were observed in this “natural order” on certain performance tasks, specifically the reading and writing tasks, as compared to three other listening and speaking tasks

w Krashen explained this difference by claiming that two separate knowledge systems underlay SL performance

w The first, and most important, the acquired system, was the product of application by learners of the same (unspecified) language learning abilities children use for first language acquisition

w The second, (and less important to Krashen), the learned system, was the product of formal instruction (typically classroom language teaching) and comprised conscious knowledge of “easy” SL grammar rules, like subject-verb agreement

w The learned system was only accessible when three conditions were met:

w 1. There was sufficient time (the task was unspeeded)

w 2. The learner was focused on form (like during a discrete point grammar test)

w 3. When the learner “knew” the rule

w Led to five major claims (over a period of time):

w 1] The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis:

w States that there are two independent ways of learning a SL: acquisition and learning

w 2] The Natural Order Hypothesis:

w Says that SL rules are acquired in a predictable order, one apparently not determined solely by linguistic complexity, and certainly not in the order in which the items appear in teaching syllabuses

w 3] The Monitor Hypothesis:

w The acquired system is the utterance initiator, with the learned system acting in a planning, editing, and correcting function when the three conditions are met

w 4] The Input Hypothesis: attempts to explain how a learner acquires a SL (Krashen calls it the central claim of Monitor Theory)

w It maintains that a SL is acquired through processing comprehensible input, that is language that is heard or read and understood

w Processing along the “natural order” is achieved when a learner at some stage, “i”, of interlanguage development receives comprehensible input that contains structures (lexis, sounds, morphology, syntax, etc.) one step beyond the current stage, or structures at “i + 1”

w 5] The Affective Filter Hypothesis: various affective factors, (motivation, self-efficacy, anxiety) play a facilitative, but non-causal role in SLA

w Lack of motivation, high anxiety, etc., can combine to “raise the filter” to form a “mental block” which prevents CI from reaching the LAD and thereby being used for acquisition

w Critiques of Krashen’s Theories:

w Acquisition vs. Learning:

w If evidence of an acquired system is fluent, unconscious speech, then it is counterintuitive to hypothesize that nothing learned in a formal situation can ever be a candidate for this use

w Too many counter-examples:

w People in classroom settings do in fact generate utterances

w No evidence that they are actually two different systems

w The Input Hypothesis:

w What is “i” ?

w The Affective Filter:

w How can a filter let in most of the input and not let in some parts?

w Why don’t children have an affective filter?

w Fails to take into consideration the value of incomprehensible input

w Appeal to UG means that it suffers from same troubles that afflict UG