Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dwight Atkinson (2011) Alternative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition

I may have little to say about this book if Rod Ellis and Clarie Kramsch already said as follows on the back cover of the book.

In recent years there has been growing recognition that the acquisition of a second language is very much a social as well as a cognitive affair. This volume brings together a collection of articles documenting the various theories and methodologies for investigating L2 acquisition as a social phenomenon. As such it is an essential purchase for anyone interested in SLA.

Rod Ellis, University of Auckland, New Zealand

This book should be an essential resource for graduate seminars in SLA. It is a unique testimony to the vibrancy of the field and to the astonishing complexity of the SLA experience.

Claire Kramsch, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Or read what its publisher, Routledge, says.

This volume presents six alternative approaches to studying second language acquisition ? 'alternative' in the sense that they contrast with and/or complement the cognitivism pervading the field. All six approaches ? sociocultural, complexity theory, conversation-analytic, identity, language socialization, and sociocognitive ? are described according to the same set of six headings, allowing for direct comparison across approaches.

Each chapter is authored by leading advocates for the approach described: James Lantolf for the sociocultural approach; Diane Larsen-Freeman for the complexity theory approach; Gabriele Kasper and Johannes Wagner for the conversation-analytic approach; Bonny Norton and Carolyn McKinney for the identity approach; Patricia Duff and Steven Talmy for the language socialization approach and Dwight Atkinson for the sociocognitive approach.

Introductory and commentary chapters round out this volume. The editor’s introduction describes the significance of alternative approaches to SLA studies given its strongly cognitivist orientation. Lourdes Ortega’s commentary considers the six approaches from an 'enlightened traditional' perspective on SLA studies ? a viewpoint which is cognitivist in orientation but broad enough to give serious and balanced consideration to alternative approaches.

This volume is essential reading in the field of second language acquisition.


Edited by Dwight Atkinson, this book successfully invites indeed the best contributors in each field of what is here modestly called as "alternative approaches."

On reading the book, I decided to use it as the text book for my graduate seminar in the autumn/winter semester in 2011/2012.

Below and in the articles to come, you'll find my supplementary material for reading the book. Along with my graduate students, you're kindly invited to explore the issues explained in this book.


Introduction by Dwight Atkinson

p. iv

Q: What are the implications of Nietzsche’s quotation, “One person is always wrong, but with two truth begins”?

p. xi

Q: Is this book an attempt to eliminate cognitivism from SLA? (Cognitivism is to be explained later in Introduction)

Q: Is this book a praise of “letting all the flowers bloom”? If not, what is this book about?

pp. 1-2

Q: Compare the excerpt from Cook & Seidlhofer, 1995 (p. 1), that from Long 1997 and that from Doughty & Long 2003 (both on p. 2).

Here's Steven Pinker's 2 minutes video: The Cognitive Revolution

Q: What is “cognitive science” (Doughty & Long 2003) in the first place? Read the two excerpts below from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and explain the central idea of cognitive science by yourself (and also, if possible, the limit of the idea).

3. Representation and Computation

The central hypothesis of cognitive science is that thinking can best be understood in terms of representational structures in the mind and computational procedures that operate on those structures. While there is much disagreement about the nature of the representations and computations that constitute thinking, the central hypothesis is general enough to encompass the current range of thinking in cognitive science, including connectionist theories which model thinking using artificial neural networks.

Most work in cognitive science assumes that the mind has mental representations analogous to computer data structures, and computational procedures similar to computational algorithms. Cognitive theorists have proposed that the mind contains such mental representations as logical propositions, rules, concepts, images, and analogies, and that it uses mental procedures such as deduction, search, matching, rotating, and retrieval. The dominant mind-computer analogy in cognitive science has taken on a novel twist from the use of another analog, the brain.

Connectionists have proposed novel ideas about representation and computation that use neurons and their connections as inspirations for data structures, and neuron firing and spreading activation as inspirations for algorithms. Cognitive science then works with a complex 3-way analogy among the mind, the brain, and computers. Mind, brain, and computation can each be used to suggest new ideas about the others. There is no single computational model of mind, since different kinds of computers and programming approaches suggest different ways in which the mind might work. The computers that most of us work with today are serial processors, performing one instruction at a time, but the brain and some recently developed computers are parallel processors, capable of doing many operations at once.


5.2 Critique of Cognitive Science

The claim that human minds work by representation and computation is an empirical conjecture and might be wrong. Although the computational-representational approach to cognitive science has been successful in explaining many aspects of human problem solving, learning, and language use, some philosophical critics such as Hubert Dreyfus (1992) and John Searle (1992) have claimed that this approach is fundamentally mistaken. Critics of cognitive science have offered such challenges as:

The emotion challenge: Cognitive science neglects the important role of emotions in human thinking.
The consciousness challenge: Cognitive science ignores the importance of consciousness in human thinking.
The world challenge: Cognitive science disregards the significant role of physical environments in human thinking.
The body challenge: Cognitive science neglects the contribution of embodiment to human thought and action.
The social challenge: Human thought is inherently social in ways that cognitive science ignores.
The dynamical systems challenge: The mind is a dynamical system, not a computational system.
The mathematics challenge: Mathematical results show that human thinking cannot be computational in the standard sense, so the brain must operate differently, perhaps as a quantum computer.

Thagard (2005) argues that all these challenges can best be met by expanding and supplementing the computational-representational approach, not by abandoning it.


p. 3

Q: What is the brief definition of “cognitive science” provided by the author?

p. 4

Q: Explain or paraphrase the following concepts: 1) Mind as computer; 2) Representationalism; 3) Learning as abstract knowledge acquisition; 4) Centrality of language, and language as code.

p. 5

Q: What is “Scientism”? You may want to read for further information the explanation provide by Prof. Martin Ryder below.

Scientism is a philosophical position that exalts the methods of the natural sciences above all other modes of human inquiry. Scientism embraces only empiricism and reason to explain phenomena of any dimension, whether physical, social, cultural, or psychological. Drawing from the general empiricism of The Enlightenment, scientism is most closely associated with the positivism of August Comte (1798-1857) who held an extreme view of empiricism, insisting that true knowledge of the world arises only from perceptual experience. Comte criticized ungrounded speculations about phenomena that cannot be directly encountered by proper observation, analysis and experiment. Such a doctrinaire stance associated with science leads to an abuse of reason that transforms a rational philosophy of science into an irrational dogma (Hayek, 1952). It is this ideological dimension that we associate with the term scientism. Today the term is used with pejorative intent to dismiss substantive arguments that appeal to scientific authority in contexts where science might not apply. This over commitment to science can be seen in epistemological distortions and abuse of public policy. …


Cf. You may be interested in Wallerstein’s European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power, where he sees Universal Values Against Barbarism, Essentialist Particularism, and Scientific Universalism (Scientism) in a sequence.



Q: How can “substance dualism” be related to “functionalism”? You may want to read the explanations of “substance,” “dualism,” and “functionalism” below.

“Substance,” according to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has two meanings. The “substance” in the textbook is used with the first meaning below.

There could be said to be two rather different ways of characterizing the philosophical concept of substance. The first is the more generic. The philosophical term ‘substance’ corresponds to the Greek ousia, which means ‘being’, transmitted via the Latin substantia, which means ‘something that stands under or grounds things’. According to the generic sense, therefore, the substances in a given philosophical system are those things which, according to that system, are the foundational or fundamental entities of reality. Thus, for an atomist, atoms are the substances, for they are the basic things from which everything is constructed. In David Hume's system, impressions and ideas are the substances, for the same reason. In a slightly different way, Forms are Plato's substances, for everything derives its existence from Forms. In this sense of ‘substance’ any realist philosophical system acknowledges the existence of substances. Probably the only theories which do not would be those forms of logical positivism or pragmatism which treat ontology as a matter of convention. According to such theories, there are no real facts about what is ontologically basic, and so nothing is objectively substance.

The second use of the concept is more specific. According to this, substances are a particular kind of basic entity, and some philosophical theories acknowledge them and others do not. On this use, Hume's impressions and ideas are not substances, even though they are the building blocks of --what constitutes ‘being’ for-- his world. According to this usage, it is a live issue whether the fundamental entities are substances or something else, such as events, or properties located at space-times. This conception of substance derives from the intuitive notion of individual thing or object, which contrast mainly with properties and events. The issue is how we are to understand the notion of an object, and whether, in the light of the correct understanding, it remains a basic notion, or one that must be characterized in more fundamental terms. Whether, for example, an object can be thought of as nothing more than a bundle of properties, or a series of events.


The term ‘dualism’ has a variety of uses in the history of thought. In general, the idea is that, for some particular domain, there are two fundamental kinds or categories of things or principles. In theology, for example a ‘dualist’ is someone who believes that Good and Evil ? or God and the Devil ? are independent and more or less equal forces in the world. Dualism contrasts with monism, which is the theory that there is only one fundamental kind, category of thing or principle; and, rather less commonly, with pluralism, which is the view that there are many kinds or categories. In the philosophy of mind, dualism is the theory that the mental and the physical ? or mind and body or mind and brain ? are, in some sense, radically different kinds of thing. Because common sense tells us that there are physical bodies, and because there is intellectual pressure towards producing a unified view of the world, one could say that materialist monism is the ‘default option’. Discussion about dualism, therefore, tends to start from the assumption of the reality of the physical world, and then to consider arguments for why the mind cannot be treated as simply part of that world.


Functionalism in the philosophy of mind is the doctrine that what makes something a mental state of a particular type does not depend on its internal constitution, but rather on the way it functions, or the role it plays, in the system of which it is a part. This doctrine is rooted in Aristotle's conception of the soul, and has antecedents in Hobbes's conception of the mind as a “calculating machine”, but it has become fully articulated (and popularly endorsed) only in the last third of the 20th century.


Q: What is “subject-object” dualism? (This is not a difficult question!)

Q: What is “methodological solipsism”? Read the two general definitions below and define it by yourself.

1. the theory that every complex phenomenon, especially in biology or psychology, can be explained by analyzing the simplest, most basic physical mechanisms that are in operation during the phenomenon.
2. the practice of simplifying a complex idea, issue, condition, or the like, especially to the point of minimizing, obscuring, or distorting it.


1 [Philosophy] the theory that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist.
2.extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one's feelings, desires, etc.; egoistic self-absorption.


Q: What is the idea suggested by the term “aggregatism”? Explain the idea by using the expression “average human being[s]”.

p. 6

Q: Explain the idea of “decompostionality” by using the episode of Humpty Dumpty.

pp. 6-7

Q: Read the quotation from Descartes (1637 /1960) and explain the unshakable foundation that he thought he found.

Q: Explain Descartes’s dualism that you can identify in the quotation.

Q: Summarize the four implications that the author of this chapter extends from Descartes’s argument.

p. 8

Q: Explain the American behaviorism in the first half of the 20th century.

pp. 8-9

Q: What is the “cognitive revolution”? You may want to read a short review paper: The cognitive revolution: a historical perspective by George A. Miller:


Q: Explain the four contributions Chomsky made.

p. 10

Q: Can the American behaviorism be sustained in the quotation (Brown and Bellugi, 1964 / 1970, p. 91). If not, why?

Q: What is the idea of “learners as active hypothesis-testers”?

p. 11

Q: What did Corder problematize in his 1967 paper?

Q: What is the “built-in syllabus”?

p. 12

Q: What did Dulay and Burt hypothesize about SLA? Do you find any connection between the hypothesis and Chomsky’s claim?

p. 13

Q: In what sense is Krashen a cognitivist?

Q: How did Schmidt come up with his noticing hypothesis?

p. 14

Q: Is Schmidt’s noticing hypothesis Chomskyean?

Q: Explain what the author means when he suggests that Schmidt returned to Descartes.

p. 15

Q: Do Doughty and Long neglect the social aspect of SLA altogether? If not, how do they see it?

p. 16

Q: What do you think about the quotation from Doughty and Long (2003, p. 866)?

[More articles are to follow to cover the rest of the book]


Beril Tezeller Arik said...

I enjoyed reading this blog entry and I'm looking forward to reading your future posts on the book. Thanks...

Yosuke YANASE said...

It's so nice of you to leave a message!
This book is really interesting because it gives me multiple perspectives. Hope you'll enjoy articles to come, too.