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Towards a Unified Theory of L1 and L2 Learning: Martha C. Pennington

Venue: Birkbeck Main Building, Room B30

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The Department of Applied Linguistics and Communication invites you to this seminar, where Professor Martha C. Pennington will discuss L1 and L2 learning research.

A main concern in L2 research has been to differentiate language learning in L1 and L2. Since the 1960’s, the contrast has rested on the notion of biologically based critical or sensitive periods that account for imperfect and variable outcomes in adults resulting from maturational constraints on language learning past childhood. This essentially binary conception of L1/L2 learning—as captured in Robert Bley-Vroman’s “Fundamental Difference Hypothesis” as well as in Stephen Krashen’s distinction between unconscious L1 acquisition versus conscious L2 learning and the psychologist Arthur Reber’s contrast of implicit versus explicit learning—has dominated much of mainstream research and theory in the field that has come to be known as Second Language Acquisition, or SLA. Within this fundamentally binary view, commonalities between L1 and L2 learning have been ignored or downplayed in theory and research. In addition, the assumption of fundamental difference has obscured findings about language learning that challenge the dominant model of language in SLA. The presentation problematizes the assumption of a fundamental difference between L1 and L2 learning, highlights some current work which challenges this binary conception, and suggests ways in which L1 and L2 learning might be conceptualized within a unified theory of language.

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Martha C. Pennington (PhD Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania) is a Research Fellow in Applied Linguistics and Communication at Birkbeck College and a Professorial Research Associate in Linguistics at the School for Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Her most recent books are Why Reading Books Still Matters: The Power of Literature in Digital Times, co-authored with Robert P. Waxler (Routledge, 2018) and English Pronunciation Teaching and Research: Contemporary Perspectives, co-authored with Pamela Rogerson-Revell (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). She is currently completing Introduction to Bilingualism and Multilingualism: People and Languages in Contact (Wiley Blackwell) and Humor and Language: Two Things That Make Us Human (Equinox).

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