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Title:Scientific laws and causality in the philosophy of second language acquisition: A neo-Aristotelian approach
Author(s):Hill, Robert
Advisor(s):Markee, Numa P.
Department / Program:Linguistics
Discipline:Teaching of English Sec Lang
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Second language acquisition
philosophy of science
Abstract:The field of second language acquisition (SLA), since its inception, has been strongly influenced by a cognitivist tradition that stretches back to Descartes. This cognitivist influence is particularly visible in the application of Chomsky’s Universal Grammar to SLA (e.g., White, 1989, 2003, 2007) and in Doughty and Long’s (2003) call for SLA to abide under the same disciplinary roof as cognitive science (see also Gregg, 2003). But cognitivism in SLA has not gone unchallenged. Block (1996), for example, argued for a poorly defined version of relativism in SLA and was convincingly refuted by Gregg, Long, Jordan, and Beretta (1997). Others offering alternatives to cognitivism, however, have been more successful. Among them, Firth & Wagner (1997) set off a rousing debate concerning the scope, key concepts, and explananda of SLA and were promptly misunderstood by prominent cognitivist SLA researchers (e.g., Long, 1997, and Gass, 1998). This failure to communicate, on both sides, significantly resembles the notion of incommensurability developed by Kuhn (1962/1996): researchers working from different paradigms, or research traditions, inevitably talk past each other because they have no rational basis for evaluating the claims of the other side. The present work suggests a potential remedy for the divide between cognitivist and social SLA. First of all, SLA research is often pursued with little regard for its philosophical heritage. The only major effort to situate SLA within the history of modern philosophy (Jordan, 2004) begins in the seventeenth century with Descartes and accepts the early modern denunciation of Aristotelianism without reservation. The recent neo-Aristotelian revival in philosophy, however, indicates that such an approach is problematic. Particularly in metaphysics and philosophy of science, neo-Aristotelian researchers have shown that key Aristotelian concepts – in particular natures, capacities, and final causes – ought to be reconsidered (e.g., volumes edited by Feser, 2013, Groff & Greco, 2013, Marmadoro, 2010, and Tahko, 2012). Drawing on Cartwright (1999), the present work suggests that neo-Aristotelian philosophy of science provides a way to account for the different emphases of cognitivist and social SLA, particularly conversation analysis (CA) as used in SLA research. In Cartwright’s neo-Aristotelian terms, cognitivist SLA searches for scientific laws ceteris paribus, in order to uncover humans’ capacity for language acquisition. CA, as an example of social SLA, investigates the phenomena of language learning ceteris non paribus. This approach, motivated by neo-Aristotelian notions of causality and scientific laws, provides an alternate way to conceptualize the discipline and account for the differences between cognitivist and social SLA.
Issue Date:2014-05-30
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Robert Stephen Hill
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-05-30
Date Deposited:2014-05

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