Chapter published in:Bilingual Cognition and Language: The state of the science across its subfields
Edited by David Miller, Fatih Bayram, Jason Rothman and Ludovica Serratrice
[Studies in Bilingualism 54] 2018
► pp. 225–250
First language attrition and bilingualism
A considerable amount of research has been devoted to exploring how bilinguals accommodate their languages. Since it has long been assumed that the native language, once completely acquired, would be immune to change, this research has mainly been focused on L2 development and L1 interference in the process of L2 learning (Gass & Selinker, 1992; Kecskes & Papp, 2000; Mitchell et al., 2013; Ringbom, 1987). However, psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic investigations into the bilingual mind have consistently demonstrated that interaction between languages is two-way and that bilinguals use and process their native languages differently than monolinguals (Cook, 2015; Green & Abutalebi, 2013; Pavlenko & Jarvis, 2002). While the precise nature of this phenomenon and the linguistic and psycholinguistic determinants involved have not been completely explored, the symptoms ascribed to first language attrition are unanimously characterized as a natural part of the developmental process in bilingualism. As attrition research has considerably advanced our knowledge on the impact of later-learned languages and bilingualism on the L1 and the loss of L1 skills, this has led to the realization that L1 attrition forms a vital component of research into bilingualism. This chapter will present a synthesis derived from the findings of previous studies on first language attrition in adult speakers in an attempt to explain the extent to which native language knowledge can become compromised, and how. It will also demonstrate how including these speakers in bilingualism investigations may help us explore the limits and possibilities of our language capacity and provide additional insight into controversial issues in second language acquisition research such as maturational constraints and the nature of L2 knowledge in late learners.
Published online: 08 March 2018
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