Special Issue "Variability and Age in Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism"

A special issue of Languages (ISSN 2226-471X).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (16 April 2021) | Viewed by 5429

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. David P Birdsong
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of French and Italian, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA
Interests: second language acquisition; psycholinguistics; bilingualism; French linguistics

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

In this Special Issue of Languages, the invited papers examine second language acquisition and bilingualism in terms of two key research dimensions: variability and age. Linguistic attainment is typically more heterogeneous among late L2 learners, compared to early L2 learners and to simultaneous bilinguals. The Special Issue goes beyond this basic relationship to consider variability and age – independently and in terms of their interconnectedness – from diverse perspectives. The contributions, which take the form of review articles, position papers, and original research, address a coherent set of fundamental questions. These include the following:

  • With respect to the connection of variability and age in ultimate attainment, what does the latest research tell us about the boundary conditions of age of L2 learning? Is it possible for late learners to resemble natives in terms of attained variability?
  • What learner-independent factors condition the loci and degree of attained variability? How does learner-dependent variability in the process of learning (e.g., exposure, interaction, socialization, motivation, etc.) relate to variability in the outcome of learning?
  • Similar questions apply to bilingualism effects, which may be modulated by age of learning and L1-L2 dominance effects. In terms of variable outcomes within and across groups, what factors condition the degree and loci of influences of the L1 on the L2 (and vice versa)?
  • In what respects are the language capabilities of a simultaneous bilingual different from, and similar to, those of two monolinguals who speak each language? Since observed differences cannot be attributed to age of learning, what are the sources – experiential, environmental, cognitive, linguistic, sociopsychological ­– of the differences? On relevant linguistic, psycholinguistic, and neurolinguistic measures, are simultaneous bilinguals more heterogeneous than monolinguals, and if so, why?
  • Is it possible to discern and classify learner types according to known dimensions of cognitive and experiential variability, and on this basis produce theoretically meaningful predictions about eventual bilingual knowledge and processing among different learner types?
  • How does variability in the interactional context of bilingualism relate to variability in the L1 (at any level of analysis)? In what ways and to what extent does experience-driven L1 variability reflect plasticity in the linguistic system?
  • On the matter of age, what is the latest thinking about critical period and age-related determinants of L2 learning outcomes? What accounts and models, be they mathematical, socio-psychological, interactional, biological, ethological, cognitive, emergentist, nativist, etc., represent adequate fits for ultimate attainment data and its underlying processes?
  • What is the evidence for differences between simultaneous, early-sequential and late bilinguals? What kinds of evidence are needed to disconfirm the Critical Period Hypothesis?
  • With respect to processing strategies and capacities, what do we know about the sources, loci, and degree of age-related differences in bilingualism?

Note: This Special Issue only publishes commissioned content. Please do not submit unsolicited manuscripts.

Prof. Dr. David P Birdsong
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Languages is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • bilingualism
  • second language acquisition
  • psycholinguistics
  • variability
  • age
  • ultimate attainment
  • critical periods
  • plasticity
  • learning models
  • bilingualism effects
  • bilingual experience
  • age-related effects
  • learner factors
  • learner types
  • individual differences
  • input
  • interaction
  • socialization

Published Papers (4 papers)

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Research

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Article
Vocal Learning and Behaviors in Birds and Human Bilinguals: Parallels, Divergences and Directions for Research
Languages 2022, 7(1), 5; https://doi.org/10.3390/languages7010005 - 31 Dec 2021
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Abstract
Comparisons between the communication systems of humans and animals are instrumental in contextualizing speech and language into an evolutionary and biological framework and for illuminating mechanisms of human communication. As a complement to previous work that compares developmental vocal learning and use among [...] Read more.
Comparisons between the communication systems of humans and animals are instrumental in contextualizing speech and language into an evolutionary and biological framework and for illuminating mechanisms of human communication. As a complement to previous work that compares developmental vocal learning and use among humans and songbirds, in this article we highlight phenomena associated with vocal learning subsequent to the development of primary vocalizations (i.e., the primary language (L1) in humans and the primary song (S1) in songbirds). By framing avian “second-song” (S2) learning and use within the human second-language (L2) context, we lay the groundwork for a scientifically-rich dialogue between disciplines. We begin by summarizing basic birdsong research, focusing on how songs are learned and on constraints on learning. We then consider commonalities in vocal learning across humans and birds, in particular the timing and neural mechanisms of learning, variability of input, and variability of outcomes. For S2 and L2 learning outcomes, we address the respective roles of age, entrenchment, and social interactions. We proceed to orient current and future birdsong inquiry around foundational features of human bilingualism: L1 effects on the L2, L1 attrition, and L1<–>L2 switching. Throughout, we highlight characteristics that are shared across species as well as the need for caution in interpreting birdsong research. Thus, from multiple instructive perspectives, our interdisciplinary dialogue sheds light on biological and experiential principles of L2 acquisition that are informed by birdsong research, and leverages well-studied characteristics of bilingualism in order to clarify, contextualize, and further explore S2 learning and use in songbirds. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Variability and Age in Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism)
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Review

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Review
Arousal States as a Key Source of Variability in Speech Perception and Learning
Languages 2022, 7(1), 19; https://doi.org/10.3390/languages7010019 - 24 Jan 2022
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Abstract
The human brain exhibits the remarkable ability to categorize speech sounds into distinct, meaningful percepts, even in challenging tasks like learning non-native speech categories in adulthood and hearing speech in noisy listening conditions. In these scenarios, there is substantial variability in perception and [...] Read more.
The human brain exhibits the remarkable ability to categorize speech sounds into distinct, meaningful percepts, even in challenging tasks like learning non-native speech categories in adulthood and hearing speech in noisy listening conditions. In these scenarios, there is substantial variability in perception and behavior, both across individual listeners and individual trials. While there has been extensive work characterizing stimulus-related and contextual factors that contribute to variability, recent advances in neuroscience are beginning to shed light on another potential source of variability that has not been explored in speech processing. Specifically, there are task-independent, moment-to-moment variations in neural activity in broadly-distributed cortical and subcortical networks that affect how a stimulus is perceived on a trial-by-trial basis. In this review, we discuss factors that affect speech sound learning and moment-to-moment variability in perception, particularly arousal states—neurotransmitter-dependent modulations of cortical activity. We propose that a more complete model of speech perception and learning should incorporate subcortically-mediated arousal states that alter behavior in ways that are distinct from, yet complementary to, top-down cognitive modulations. Finally, we discuss a novel neuromodulation technique, transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS), which is particularly well-suited to investigating causal relationships between arousal mechanisms and performance in a variety of perceptual tasks. Together, these approaches provide novel testable hypotheses for explaining variability in classically challenging tasks, including non-native speech sound learning. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Variability and Age in Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism)
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Review
The Quest for Signals in Noise: Leveraging Experiential Variation to Identify Bilingual Phenotypes
Languages 2021, 6(4), 168; https://doi.org/10.3390/languages6040168 - 15 Oct 2021
Cited by 10 | Viewed by 1042
Abstract
Increasing evidence suggests that bilingualism does not, in itself, result in a particular pattern of response, revealing instead a complex and multidimensional construct that is shaped by evolutionary and ecological sources of variability. Despite growing recognition of the need for a richer characterization [...] Read more.
Increasing evidence suggests that bilingualism does not, in itself, result in a particular pattern of response, revealing instead a complex and multidimensional construct that is shaped by evolutionary and ecological sources of variability. Despite growing recognition of the need for a richer characterization of bilingual speakers and of the different contexts of language use, we understand relatively little about the boundary conditions of putative “bilingualism” effects. Here, we review recent findings that demonstrate how variability in the language experiences of bilingual speakers, and also in the ability of bilingual speakers to adapt to the distinct demands of different interactional contexts, impact interactions between language use, language processing, and cognitive control processes generally. Given these findings, our position is that systematic variation in bilingual language experience gives rise to a variety of phenotypes that have different patterns of associations across language processing and cognitive outcomes. The goal of this paper is thus to illustrate how focusing on systematic variation through the identification of bilingual phenotypes can provide crucial insights into a variety of performance patterns, in a manner that has implications for previous and future research. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Variability and Age in Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism)
Review
The Critical Period Hypothesis for L2 Acquisition: An Unfalsifiable Embarrassment?
Languages 2021, 6(3), 149; https://doi.org/10.3390/languages6030149 - 06 Sep 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1752
Abstract
This article focuses on the uncertainty surrounding the issue of the Critical Period Hypothesis. It puts forward the case that, with regard to naturalistic situations, the hypothesis has the status of both “not proven” and unfalsified. The article analyzes a number of reasons [...] Read more.
This article focuses on the uncertainty surrounding the issue of the Critical Period Hypothesis. It puts forward the case that, with regard to naturalistic situations, the hypothesis has the status of both “not proven” and unfalsified. The article analyzes a number of reasons for this situation, including the effects of multi-competence, which remove any possibility that competence in more than one language can ever be identical to monolingual competence. With regard to the formal instructional setting, it points to many decades of research showing that, as critical period advocates acknowledge, in a normal schooling situation, adolescent beginners in the long run do as well as younger beginners. The article laments the profusion of definitions of what the critical period for language actually is and the generally piecemeal nature of research into this important area. In particular, it calls for a fuller integration of recent neurolinguistic perspectives into discussion of the age factor in second language acquisition research. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Variability and Age in Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism)
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