Language Learning Roundtable “The relation between learner grammar and input”

Wednesday, September 5, 13:30-17:50



Nick Ellis (University of Michigan)
Rebekah Rast (The American University of Paris)
Jacopo Saturno (Università di Bergamo)
Sarah Schimke (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster)
Sharon Unsworth (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen)


Susanne Carroll (University of Calgary)
Daniel Véronique (Université Aix-Marseille)


The topic of the Roundtable is the concrete relation between input and grammatical development in second language acquisition. No current approach to L2 acquisition denies that input is an essential ingredient to language development. It is equally uncontested, however, that the structure of early learner grammar (as evident in comprehension and production) differs from the input in important ways. What needs to be explained is thus the relation between patterns in the input and the acquisition outcome.

On the one hand, there are properties of the input (e.g. frequency and salience of specific elements) that could exert an influence in a bottom-up fashion. On the other hand, the learner disposes of prior knowledge and processing routines that may stem from different sources (e.g. language specific or not; learned or innate), and these may influence input processing in a top-down fashion. Different explanations of the relation of input patterns and acquisition outcome have been proposed, that tend to weigh these two types of factors differently. However, these different explanations typically rely on primitives routed in their own research tradition. As a consequence, it is difficult to compare the approaches in relation to the same data. The aim of the Roundtable is to stimulate a discussion of empirical data across approaches.

The participants have in common that they have conducted empirical studies on the relation between properties of the input and properties of the language acquisition outcome. In order to enhance a focused discussion, each presentation will be briefly commented by one of the other speakers. Two overall discussants will help to identify important points of agreement and disagreement and to facilitate a discussion with the audience.

Guiding questions:

1)      What relation did you observe between specific patterns in the input and the acquisition outcome?

2)      In your view, which aspects of your results are specific to the methods you applied?

3)      According to you, which properties of input patterns (for instance, their token or type frequency, their salience, the transparency of form-meaning mappings etc.) can explain the observed relation?

4)      According to you, which properties of the learners (for instance, knowledge of their L1, presumably innate knowledge of linguistic structure, language-independent principles of attention and memory, principles of discourse organization, communicative needs, interlanguage-internal pressure etc.) can explain the observed relation?



Part I

13:30    Introduction (Christine Dimroth)

13:40    Sharon Unsworth: Accounting for input effects in bilingual language development
                within a generative approach. Followed by a comment from Sarah Schimke

14:20    Sarah Schimke: Language-independent expectations and language-specific knowledge
                in L2 processing. Followed by a comment from Sharon Unsworth

15:00    Susanne Carroll & Daniel Véronique: Discussion (including the audience)


15.30-16.00 Coffee Break


Part II

16:00    Nick Ellis: Usage-based approaches to L2 input and its intake. Followed by a comment
                from Rebekah Rast & Jacopo Saturno

16:40    Rebekah Rast & Jacopo Saturno: Initial production of Polish case/gender marking:
                Input vs. other factors.
Followed by a comment from Nick Ellis

17:20    Susanne Carroll & Daniel Véronique: Discussion (including the audience)

17:50    Closure