The co-emergence of Spanish as a second language and individual differences : a dynamical systems theory perspective

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Lyle, Cory Jackson

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Dynamical Systems Theory (DST) (De Bot, Lowie, & Vespoor 2007; Larsen-Freeman 1997, 2007; Larsen-Freeman & Cameron 2008; Dörnyei 2009; and van Lier 2000) represents a scientific paradigm shift derived from the fields of physics, engineering and theoretical mathematics that attempts to solve real-world scenarios that do not respond to scientific reductionism, otherwise known as ‘analysis’. The purpose of this dissertation is to (re)frame foreign language learning/use as a dynamical process that that involves interplay among what Dörnyei (2009) terms the language, the agent and the environment. More specifically, this dissertation presents a quasi-experimental, psycholinguistic study that looks at the interface between language (in this case the talk that resulted from NS-NNS interactions) and agent (as defined by a set of personal traits, or Individual Differences [IDs], including motivation, attitudes, personality and aptitude) in order to answer the research question: Do IDs vary in conjunction with language learning/use, and if so, how? Eight tutored Spanish learners were followed over the course of 16 weeks during which time they participated in 8 chat sessions with a native Spanish-speaker. Their ID profiles were measured immediately before and after each session and sessions with significant pre- to post-session ID shifts were analyzed to determine to what extent such shifts correlated with certain types of talk and/or think-aloud sequences. Results indicated that all participants’ pre- and post-interactional ID profiles fluctuated measurably and significantly, even within the span of a single interaction. Moreover, those sessions with significantly positive ID shifts were qualitatively different in terms of language-related episodes (LREs), conversation management/pragmatic markers, and metacognition from those with significantly negative ID shifts. Other unexpected findings revealed, for example, that LREs (especially NS-initiated LREs) negatively impacted motivations and attitudes and, therefore, the language-learning process itself. Taken together, the results of this study indicate that the agent’s IDs and their (inter)language co-emerge; that is to say, they evolve simultaneously and in response to one another. Moreover, this study suggests that DST can indeed be quasi-experimentally applied to the study of SLA, thus necessitating further development in DST-oriented methodologies and research questions.



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