Prof. Brian MacWhinney talked about Multidimensional SLA
Professor Brian MacWhinney from Carnegie Mellon university was invited to give a lecture on muldimimensional SLA on the evening of May 5, 2017. As a key figure at the Psychology, Modern Languages, Language Technologies Institute, he specializes in first and second language acquisition, psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics. The talk was charied by Prefessor Dong Yanping, director of the Bilingual Cognition and Development Lab.
In the beginning, Prof. MacWhinney pointed out that the studies of SLA needed both theory and methodology. Theoretically, he addressed the issue from the perspective of emergentism, which had its origin in Charles Darwin’s idea of proliferation, competition, and selection. Language was multidimensional in nature for having hierarchical structures of different subsystems -- audition, articulation, lexicon, syntax, mental model and discourse. In addition, language included timeframes of processing, consolidation, social diffusion andgenetic diffusion. The concept of emergence was vividly illustrated by the chemical equation of the formation of water molecule and the four levels of protein folding, both of which had levels where structure came out with constraints. As timeframes exerted their impact in the moment of communication due to competing motivations, it was necessary for researchers to capture data in actual moments by meshing frames. Methodologies like classroom-based research and lab experiments had their shortcomings of inconsistent administration and lack of authenticity. Prof. MacWhinney therefore developed the SLA web-based system called TalkBank by taking advantages of corpus analysis methods and web experiments. For the later part of the lecture, he demonstrated the components of TalkBank, including cognitive test library, practice tutors,concept tutors, captioned video, corpus-based learning and language learning in the wild.
Prof. MacWhinney’s talk broadened our theoretical horizons and familiarized us with the powerful tool of TalkBank. The audience were intrigued by the underlying logic and his sense of humor.