LOT Summer School 2018

State of the art: Language attrition

Merel Keijzer



Title of the course:

Language attrition: a state-of-the-art course



Course description:

Language attrition, the process whereby healthy individuals lost (parts of) their language or languages is intriguing from a social and empirical perspective. Socially, and especially from a first language attrition perspective, speakers are often puzzled why the language they grew up with is slowly ebbing away after periods of non-use due to (long-term) immersion in a second language environment. Empirically, the field of language attrition is firmly embedded within the broader research spectrum of bilingualism studies, but presents a special case therein: the dynamic interplay between a first (L1) and second (L2) language can be uniquely studied in subjects where - due to personal circumstances - a sudden change takes place in their language use patterns. This perspective fits in nicely with the current perspective of lifespan language use featuring prominently in bilingualism research. Such a perspective acknowledges the fact that the bilingual repertoire does not necessarily have steady states, but instead remains flexibility throughout the lifespan and that bilingual development entails both language acquisition and attrition as two ends of the continuum. This course will present a state-of-the-art overview of attrition research and coincides with the publication of the Handbook of Language Attrition (published by Oxford University Press). More specifically, the courses focuses on five facets of attrition work, effectively resulting in daily themes (see day-to-day program below). The focus of the first four days of the course will be on first language attrition; on the fifth day the topic of second and foreign language attrition will be discussed in detail.

Day-to-day program:

Monday: The linguistics of language attrition

Today, we will see how first language attrition manifests itself across different linguistic domains, i.e. phonetic/phonological, morphological, syntactic, and lexical.

Tuesday: The extralinguistic variables predicting attrition

On this day, we will explore the different extralinguistic variables that have been associated with first language attrition, such as motivation, age at onset of second language learning, amount of exposure to both the L1 and L2, etc. We will review the evidence for these predictors on both the rate and the outcome of first language attrition.

Wednesday: Psycho- and neurolinguistics approaches to attrition

Although historically psycholinguistic and neurolinguistics approaches were among the last to enter the field of language attrition, under the influence of especially neuroimaging, we have in recent years been able to get a better understanding of the process and outcome of language attrition. Today, we will be discussing these results, and will point to future applications of psycholinguistic and neurolinguistics methods to the field of language attrition.

Thursday: Incomplete acquisition versus attrition: the case of heritage languages

The age at which speakers move to another language environment or the age at which more general changes in language use patterns emerge has been found to exert great influence on the extent of attrition they are likely to show. This has fueled a debate about where to draw the line between incomplete acquisition and attrition, which is very interesting from a bilingualism perspective. Very important in shaping this debate has been the line of research examining heritage language development in international adoptees, which will be amply discussed today.

Friday: Foreign and second language attrition

Foreign and second language attrition is vastly under-researched compared to first language attrition. Today, we will discuss whether the two processes are fundamentally different or share characteristics. Moreover, we will discuss the findings within this area that have been yielded so far.

Reading list:

As this course coincides with the publication of the Handbook of Language Attrition (Oxford University Press), all readings will be taken from that handbook. These chapters will be made available to participants through a zipfile a month before the course starts.

Course readings:

Lecture 1:

  1. Schmid & de Leeuw : Introduction to the linguistic domains affected by attrition.
  2. Jarvis : Lexical attrition

Lecture 2:

  1. Schmid & Cherciov : Introduction to extralinguistic variables shaping attrition
  2. Riehl : Language contact and language attrition

Lecture 3:

  1. Köpke & Keijzer : Introduction to psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic approaches to language attrition
  2. Rossi, Prystaula & Diaz : Investigating language attrition and language change through neuroimaging methods

Lecture 4:

  1. Montrul & Polinsky : Introduction to heritage languages in the context of attrition
  2. Pierce, Genessee & Klein : Language loss and language learning in international adopteesLecture 5:
  1. Mehotcheva & Köpke : Introduction to foreign and second language attrition
  2. Larson-Hall : L2 lexical attrition