From Emergence to Skilled Second Language Use: Automatic Processing and Processability Theory

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This paper examines the L2 acquisitional path from emergence of a structure to its automatization focusing on the nature of the inter-phrasal stage in the oral performance of L2 learners particularly at the pragmatics-syntax interface. In line with Levelt’s (1989) model of the speaker Processability Theory (Pienemann 1998) assumes automatic processing in language production, utilizing procedural knowledge/memory. L2 learners need to build up their procedural knowledge for faster language processing, i.e. they need to automatize their L2 language production. However PT utilizes the notion of emergence not automatization in order to identify the stage achieved by the learner. Thus, while emergence is well defined and studied within PT (i.e. operationalised emergence criteria define the emergence of each syntactic and morphological stage) automatization is not. So we do not yet have a clear notion of how L2 learners traverse the path from emergence of a particular grammatical structure to the point where the production of this structure (or some of its components) is automatized.
In order to attack this problem we offer fresh empirical evidence from the investigation of lexical mapping theory in English speaking background learners of Japanese L2 using both self-paced and time-constrained tasks. Results show that a group of learners who were able to produce higher stage (interphrasal) structures with the self-paced task displayed, nevertheless, marked differences when performing the time-constrained task. That is, one subset appears to show a ‘training effect’ in the time-constrained task while no such effect is detected in either a less experienced subset or in a more advanced subset.
These differences are interpreted as reflecting the existence of a measurable gradient between emergence of a structure and its automatization. This, in turn, throws some light on the nature of the perceived gap between the emergence of a procedure and its automatization which would suggest connecting more explicitly a developmental cognitive approach, such as PT, with Skill Acquisition approaches (e.g., DeKeyser 1997, 2007; McLaughlin, 1987; Segalowitz, 2003; Skehan 1998) for a more detailed account of acquisition and a more useful characterization of the current state of the learner (e.g., for learning and teaching purposes). The results of our study appear to parallel recent findings in brain science (e.g., Oishi 2006).


Keywords: Automatization, Emergence, Second Language Learning, Processability Theory, Oral Production Skills Learning, Pragmatics-Syntax Interface
Stream: Literacy, Language, Multiliteracies; Languages Education and Second Language Learning
Presentation Type: 30 minute Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Prof Bruno Di Biase

Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities and Languages, University of Western Sydney
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

I am Associate Head of School (Academic).

Dr. Satomi Kawaguchi

Lecturer, School of Humanities and Languages, University of Western Sydney
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Satomi Kawaguchi teaches Japanese and Second Language Acquisition

Ref: L09P0963