The cognitive ecology of L2 learning and L1 change in multilingual societies

Antonella Sorace | University of Edinburgh

Is there a relationship between openness of the L1 to change and level of L2  attainment? Recent research on the phenomenon of first-generation ‘attrition’ has  shown that a speaker’s first language (L1) changes in selective ways as a result of  learning a second language (L2). The aspects of L1 grammar affected by change are  the ones that remain variable even in highly proficient L2 speakers of the same  language: they tend to be language structures that interface with contextual variables  and are affected by cognitive and social factors. Four provisional generalisations are  possible at this stage: first, we should treat L1 attrition as a natural and predictable  consequence of language contact, in the bilingual brain and then in multilingual  communities, which may eventually lead to diachronic language change across  generations; second, understanding the big picture requires serious consideration of  individual differences; third, we may need to discontinue the use of ‘native monolingual  speakers’ as a point of reference in research, especially given the fact that we live in  increasingly mobile and multilingual societies; fourth, we need more interdisciplinary  research on different aspects of bilingualism that combines the insights of linguistic,  cognitive and social models.