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Publications of Interest

Instructed Second Language Acquisition, Issue 2.2 (2018)

Dr. Diego Cortés Velásquez (CSULB) serves as an assistant editor for the journal of Instructed Second Language Acquisition. Recently, the journal published a special issue on Second Language Teaching and Generative Linguistics. For your convenience, see below for the list of articles published in this issue:


What Absolute Beginners Learn from Input: From Laboratory to Classroom Research

by Susanne E. Carroll and Angela George


Absolute beginners rapidly solve several word learning problems after minimal exposure to second language speech. In this article, we report on laboratory research that supports this claim. Explaining second language acquisition is a goal of foundational research. While our findings are consistent with the generativist enterprise, generativists have been content to describe what learnershave acquired while avoiding discussion of the 'how'. We describe a specific generativist approach (the Autonomous Induction Theory) that directly addresses the role of specific learning mechanisms proposed by cognitive psychology. In contrast to alternative non-generative approaches, the Autonomous Induction Theory offers a constrained theory of language acquisition. Both the data from laboratory settings and the theoretical explanations of how adult learners learn have potential implications for language teaching. One should not, however, make teaching recommendations directly from laboratory results. Rather, the findings should be reinterpreted as a research agenda for the classroom, one that recognises its complexities. In this paper, we make several proposals as to how to get from laboratory findings to a classroom-based research agenda.

Specificity and Article Use: A Theoretically Informed Classroom Intervention

by Mona Sabir


This study reports the findings of a classroom intervention experiment investigating the effectiveness of explicit instruction in teaching the English articles' semantic properties (definiteness and specificity) to Hejazi Arabic-speaking learners. Additionally, the study explores whether learners fluctuate (use the instead of a/ an and vice versa) in contexts where the taught semantic properties do not match. Fifty-four Hejazi Arabic-speaking participants were divided into two groups (instructed and control/uninstructed). The instructed group received explicit instruction on specificity and definiteness, since specificity is currently not taught to learners of English whereas definiteness is. The control group received traditional English language lessons with no explicit instruction on article semantics. By comparing the participants' performance with twenty-three native English speakers, the findings of the study show learners' sensitivity to specificity in article choice. They further show evidence supporting explicit instruction. The instructed group outperformed the uninstructed group and this effect was sustained until the delayed post-test with respect to average effects. The paper concludes that generative linguistics can inform the language classroom by predicting areas of acquisition difficulty. It also stresses that explicit language instruction is more beneficial than standard classroom instruction in teaching articles. On the basis of the findings, theoretical and pedagogical implications are discussed.

Addressing Fluctuation in Article Choice by Japanese Learners of L2 English through Explicit Instruction

by Neal Snape and Mari Umeda


This study examines the role of explicit instruction in article meanings to L1-Japanese L2 learners of English. An instruction group (n = 21), a control group (n = 16) and a native English speaker group (n = 9) participated in this study. Participants were asked to rate the acceptability of [±definite] and [±specific] sentences on a scale of 1-4 (1 = unacceptable; 4 = acceptable) in relation to a context for pre- and three post-tests. A pre-test was administered to both groups before instruction began and three post-tests were given to both groups. The instruction group received seven, sixty-minute lessons across seven weeks on instruction in the concepts of definiteness and specificity. Post-test 1 was administered to all participants at the end of the instruction period; post-test 2 was given after a twelve-week summer break; post-test 3 was one year after instruction had ended. The findings show that the instruction group made some gains in consolidating their understanding of the concepts during the instruction period, but after one year little explicit knowledge was retained.

Classroom Input to Accelerate Feature Reassembly of English Generics

by May Abumelha


This is an experimental study on the effect of explicit and implicit classroom input on the acquisition of English generics by L1-Najdi Arabic speakers. Following a feature-based contrastive analysis, acquisition difficulties are predicted with indefinite singular and bare plural contexts. The experiment included fifty-four students divided into two experimental groups and one uninstructed control group. One experimental group received implicit input by using genre analysis of texts reinforced with generic NPs, and the other group received explicit grammatical 'focus on form' on generics. Two instruments were used: a forced choice task and a sentence repetition task conducted as pre-tests, posttests and delayed post-tests. The results showed significant increase in the total scores of both experimental groups, but long-term effect was only found with the explicit group. The forced choice task showed significant improvement in the explicit group's accuracy on generic indefinite singular and bare plural contexts and long-term improvement on the bare plural. The explicit group's results on the repetition task show temporary improvement in the generic indefinite singular post-test. In general, the results suggest that explicit input is more effective than implicit input. Implications on acquisition difficulties and instruction are discussed.

The Positive Effect of Explicit Positive Evidence: Hebrew Speakers Unlearning Null Subjects in L2 English

by Noa Brandel


The study investigates questions central to the field of second language (L2) acquisition and instruction: Does the first language (L1) influence the L2 grammar? Can wrong patterns be restructured? Is Universal Grammar accessible during L2 acquisition? And can L2 acquisition, rather than learning (in Krashen's sense), be triggered by explicit positive evidence (EPE), combining input flood with explicit emphasis upon target forms? Three properties associated with the Null Subject Parameter were inspected in two sixth-grade groups (L1-Hebrew, L2-English): thematic subject omission, expletive subject omission, and post-verbal subjects. During teaching, both groups were exposed to input flood of expletive subjects, but only in one group were expletives explicitly emphasized (EPE). A Hebrew-to-English translation-choice task tested the abovementioned properties pre-teaching, immediately post-teaching, and four months post-teaching. Shortly after teaching, the group which was explicitly taught improved significantly in rejecting ungrammatical null expletives and post-verbal subjects, but not null thematic subjects, thus indicating (partial) clustering. However, the improvement attained was not fully preserved four months later. The results show that short-term exposure to EPE concerning a single property can apparently trigger change in another property, suggesting that learned knowledge can affect L2 competence, and that Universal Grammar plays a role in L2 acquisition.

No Fear of George Kinglsley Zipf: Language Classroom, Statistics and Universal Grammar

by Stefano Rastelli and Kook-Hee Gil


This paper offers a new insight into GenSLA classroom research in light of recent developments in the Minimalist Program (MP). Recent research in GenSLA has shown how generative linguistics and acquisition studies can inform the language classroom, mostly focusing on what linguistic aspects of target properties should be integrated as a part of the classroom input. Based on insights from Chomsky’s «three factors for language design» - which bring together the Faculty of Language, input and general principles of economy and efficient computation (the third factor effect) for language development - we put forward a theoretical rationale for how classroom research can offer a unique environment to test the learnability in L2 through the statistical enhancement of the input to which learners are exposed.