What happens to the “lost language” in language attrition? Essay

For this essay one will need to look at what happens to the language that is lost in the process of language attrition. In order to do this after defining language attrition one will investigate the different situations in which language attrition can be found, one will also be examining hypothesis as to what theorists believe happens in cases of attrition and therefore what happens to the language that is at risk as it starts to disappear as the process of language attrition is taking place in individuals. There are also factors which are significant that one should look at that can have an impact.One will also have a look at effect of these factors in a case study of Dutch immigrants in France. Attrition is not only a term than can be used for individuals but also for societies such as immigrant communities. It is important to say that severe cases of language attrition in such communities can lead to the extreme case of Language death Seliger & Vago (1991) If one looks for a definition of attrition, one can see that this is a term that does not only concern language, but that attrition is the act of wearing away.

Attrition can occur in bilingual individuals who lose all or almost all language skills in one of their languages.Van Els (1983) cited in Chin and Wigglesworth (2007:73) found there to be 4 types of language attrition, these are as follows; first language can be lost in a first language environment. This is usually the result of the attriter aging or there are pathological conditions in which language loss can occur for example dementia. Both the loss of a language through aging and through pathological can be possible in one attriter. Secondly, second language lost in a first language environment this relates to people who learn a second language whilst at school.However, when the contact with the language is lost (i.

e. hrough the end of school) thus also is the language. As well as this there is first language loss in a second language environment this is the outcome of people emigrating to a country where contact with their first language is limited or comes to a stop.

This can be be because of there is no opportunity to use Language 1 i. e. no one speaking that language in the country or through making a conscious choice to not to speak to those who speak Language 1. Finally there is also second language in a second language environment this can also be due to pathological conditions but this is where a second language is lost after emigration.

Language 1 loss in Language 2 environment and Language 2 loss in Language 1 environment are the most common forms of attrition. There are hypotheses that are important to look at when considering the answer to the language lost in the process of attrition. The first of which to look at is the Activation Threshold Hypothesis. This was first used by Paradis (1985) cited in Kopke (2002) to come up with the most likely cause of polyglot aphasia. However, Kopke (2002) related it to the process of language attrition. It hypothesizes that items that are accessed recently and more often are easier to call to mind.Therefore in regard to losing language 1 in a language 2 environment, elements of language 2 will more easily come to mind than those of less used of language 1.

When 1 language is selection this automatically acts as a hindrance for the other language as it heightens that language’s activation threshold. Thus the less frequently these items are accessed, the more stimulus is needed for activation consequently the activation threshold is higher and access to these items becomes harder and slower this is the result of more impulses being required for activation.However, within 1 language different linguistic items may necessitate different degrees of stimulation. This hypothesis concludes that a lack of language contact results in a natural reduced accessibility to being able to produce the language. Another hypothesis that is important to consider with this question is the Critical Period Hypothesis. This is a hypothesis that is relevant to the field of language acquisition nonetheless it is also relevant with regard to attrition, as the two are very closely tied together.Studies such as Kauffman (2001) cited in Seliger & Vago (1991)found that the attrition of Language 1 is different for those who have not yet reached the critical period and those who have gone past it i.

e. attrition is found to be much more severe in adults than in children. We can find examples of this in adopted children; Isurin (2000) cited in Chin and Wigglesworth (2007) set out to do this because he wanted to investigate the relationship between language acquisition and language attrition. Therefore he studied a russian child who was adopted by a family from the U.S.

Isurin found that nouns were attrited more quickly in Language 1 and acquired more quickly in Language 2 than verbs. Contrary to other studies he also found that high frequency words were attrited more quickly. However, he said that this was because in other studies access to language 1 had been maintained whereas in this case it was not. Isurin concluded by saying that accessing Language 1 concepts becomes more difficult as equivalents in Language 2 are acquired. The last hypothesis that one will look at for the answer is the Regression hypothesis.The Regression hypothesis was initially thought of by Roman Jakobson (1941) when he was studying its links to aphasia. However, later it was associated with attrition by De Bot and Westen (1991).

The Hypothesis predicts that the elements of language are lost in the reverse order that they are acquired, this is to say that the elements of a language that were first acquired will take a person the longest time to be forgotten. It is also true for the skills that are required for the acquiring of a new language. Receptive skills (e. g. reading and listening) precede productive skills (e.

. speaking and writing) and the reverse is true for language attrition (De Bot et al 2005).Productive skills have been found to be more susceptible to attrition than Receptive skills. This has be found to not only be true with the ‘natural’ process of forgetting but can also account for pathological conditions in attriters such as dementia. However, caution must be taken as one must remember that more is known about the process of acquisition than of the process of attrition. There are several factors that are which should be looked at that affect the process of attrition.

Schmid (2004) argues that the most important factor is age. As it has been suggested that the younger the child is when contact with the language is lost the faster and the most is lost. Tied in with the age factor is the level of education. Pelc cited in Schmid 2004:11 measured this by the number of years in education in Language 1. It was found that more years in education in Language 1 had the impact of slowing down the attrition process. Another factor that needs to be taken into account is the frequency of use (Schmid 2004) it can be intertwined with the Activation Threshold Hypothesis.This is the result of many studies that believe that attrition is mainly attributed to frequency of use. This can be because those that come into contact with Language 1 more in everyday life will have easier access to the location in the brain in which Language 1 compared to those who have little or no contact with Language 1.

This can be especially highlighted for children as the younger the child is, the less literary material or other will be available to help them maintain their language skills.Motivation also plays a crucial role in the attrition process Gardner et al (2005) conducted research into this factor. They investigated students who had taken part in a 6 week intensive French summer school. After the course the students were asked to fill out a questionnaire evaluating their attitudes towards their language skills. The results showed that those with a positive attitude with regard to their language skills showed little change in their linguistic ability when the course had finished.

On the other hand there were others who had a more negative outlook and it was found that they had greater deterioration in theirs. One should look at the case study of Dutch language proficiency of Dutch immigrants who are living in France (De Bot et al in Seliger and Vago 1991:87-95) therefore this experiment investigated the loss of Language 1 in a Language 2 environment. It looked at 2 factors in relation to language attrition; the amount of time since emigration and the amount of contact time that they had with Language 1.The experiment selected Dutch people who had emigrated after the age of 17, lived in France for at least 10 years and had varying amounts of contact with the Dutch language. They were given 3 tests to test their proficiency which were as follows; an editing test, in this, subjects were given a story with extra words added in, subjects had to identify these extra words here time since emigration and contact with Language 1 were not seen to have a significant effect. However, this experiment had not been done before so it is not necessarily a reliable measurement.The second test was the Foreign Service Interview.

The first stage requires the interviewer to asses the proficiency of the subject, then the language they used and the topics mentioned were adapted in order to accommodate the interviewee’s proficiency. In the final stage the interviewee used complex language to test the limit of their proficiency. There were trained judges who gave the subjects a mark out of 10 for 5 different areas; pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. Grammar and Comprehension had the lowest result and vocabulary was the highest.These results showed that increased contact with the language was a significant factor in slowing down the attrition process whereas time since emigration was not of the same importance. Finally there was the grammaticality test that was devised by Koster et al (1985) for this the researchers tested non attriting Dutch speakers on their judgement of the grammaticality of 70 sentences containing 10 different types of constructions as a control for their experiment.

When conducted on the Dutch immigrants it was found that the percentage of correct answers did not depend on contact with the language or time since emigration.There are different effects that the learning of Language 2 can have on Language 2. There are externally induced factors which can play a part in the loss of Language 1 in a Language 2 speaking environment (Seliger & Vago 1991).

These can be grammatical influences this is where elements of language for example a verb form in Language 1 is represented in the exact same way onto Language 2.One of the most common of these is rule generalization this is when a Language 2 rule is extended onto Language 1. Whereby the Language 2 rules concerning agreement are applied incorrectly onto Language 1. On the other hand semantic characteristics of Language 2 can have an impact on Language 1.

One of these can be meaning extension, where the meaning of a word in Language 1 is extended to include the meaning of another word in Language 1. A final externally induced factor is loan translation, this is the literal translation of a Language 2 expression (often idiomatic) into Language 1 the result of which is usually ungrammatical. One has looked externally induced factors but it is essential to also view internally induced factors.These are factors that are related to the universal principles of those of Language 1 such as analogical leveling, this is when irregular or marked features of the language are replaced with the regular pattern, such as the regularization of irregular verbs. Category leveling is when the concept of a category is extended into another category. Finally it has been found that attriters use category switching this means “a Category may be maintained conceptually, but is expressed in a different linguistic form” (Seliger & Vago 1991:11).After looking at the evidence including facors affecting attrition and the hypothesis explaining the case of language attrition, one is left with the question; is it possible for a bilingual to lose a language entirely? Sharwood & Smith (1983) cited in Seliger & Vargo (1991).

This is the case for the loss of Language 2 in a Language 1 environment. It has been found that it is almost impossible to deactivate a language entirely whilst the other language is being used.The languages that they are able to speak compete in the brain for amount of memory and processing space in the mind. The Activation Threshold Hypothesis supports the improbability of being able to lose a language entirely.

This is because it states that a language that has not been used for a while takes a longer time to be retrieved. However, when retrieved recall will become easier and faster for the individual. Despite this, it is possible for individuals to lose a language entirely as is the case of attriters who have experienced physical damage to the brain.


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