Talk by Professor Damián Vergara Wilson
March 16, 2017
4:00 pm
133 Sparks Building

Talk by Professor Damián Vergara Wilson

The heritage language as a complex adaptive system: Applying notions of usage-based linguistics to heritage language instruction

As the field of heritage languages has represented one of the most visible innovations in language teaching over the last two decades, another innovation has emerged under the rubric of usage-based models of language representation and acquisition (e.g. Robinson and Ellis 2008; Littlemore 2009; Tyler 2012). However, there has been no consideration as to how usage-based approaches to second language acquisition could contribute to creating maximally effective pedagogical materials in the heritage language classroom. In a position paper highlighting the uniting factors of different usage-based approaches to language analysis, Beckner et al. (2009:1) recognize that “Language has a fundamentally social function” and that it is a complex adaptive system that evolves through the locus of speaker interaction. The project described here takes the position that concepts from usage-based approaches are compatible with the critical and sociolinguistic emphases in Spanish as a heritage language instruction. Therefore, the current undertaking is: a.) an attempt at developing a cogent position on meshing heritage language instruction and usage-based models, and b.) a preliminary attempt at implementing heritage language pedagogical materials using usage-based linguistics and construction grammar as underlying frameworks. While scholars recognize that the majority of language is produced through manipulation of prefabricated formulae (e.g. Erman and Warren 2000), most second language instruction does not acknowledge this and focuses on the acquisition of isolated vocabulary. Therefore, the major question explored by this project is: How do we teach multi-word constructions in a way that reflects authentic usage? One major avenue for emphasizing formulaic language is through identification of frequently occurring constructions in a linguistic corpora that represent learner speech communities. Here, we focus on beginning-level Spanish as a heritage language learners. Being chiefly passive bilinguals, beginners come to the classroom with significant constructional categories that have been built up though linguistic experiences in their communities. We aim to maximize this authentic community experience of our students through implementing materials derived from the New Mexico Colorado Spanish Survey (Bills and Vigil 2008).


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