Language Acquisition

Prior to beginning this discussion, please read the following required articles based on your last name *prior to posting:

*All articles should be read prior to posting to your peers’ posts.

In your initial post,

  • Apply skeptical inquiry to a brief discussion about why language acquisition is an important area for scholars and educators to understand when developing learning opportunities.
  • Choose and define three new vocabulary terms from the week’s readings and explain your interest in these concepts.
  • Discuss how additional factors [Zone of Proximal Development (A-M), self-regulation (N-S), and neuroscience (T-Z)] might affect language acquisition.
  • Apply the concept of language acquisition to your own academic success. Has your own language development affected your success as a student? As an employee? How? Based on the resources and your current knowledge, do you believe you could develop areas of language acquisition, personally, that would be beneficial to you, your loved ones, or your friends?

Your initial post should be at least 500 words in length and thoroughly discuss each of the elements in the prompt.

International Journal of Language Studies Volume 11, Number 1, January 2017, pp. 1-22

ISSN: 2157-4898; EISSN: 2157-4901 © 2017 IJLS; Printed in the USA by Lulu Press Inc.

Language acquisition socialization: Sociocognitive and complexity theory perspectives

Assia BAGHDADI, M’sila University, Algeria

Although it dates back to the early 1980s, language socialization research is still regarded as one of the relatively recent realms of scholarship in applied linguistics. It is based on the premise of bringing together an analysis of social, cultural, and cognitive dimensions of situated language learning. Employing this perspective, the current research has a three-fold purpose: (a) to maintain language acquisition aspects that are represented by social, cognitive, and social-cognitive underpinnings, (b) to shed light upon the theoretical backgrounds of both sociocognitive theory and complexity theory, which have been purposefully selected to be discussed due to their bearings on language socialization, and their sharing of the view that the cognitive and the social are intricately interwoven and mutually constitutive, and (c) to depict the commonalities and differences of the two theories in order to point out the extent of convergence and divergence that they have with language socialization as well as the extent they reach in shaping a meaningful language acquisition research agenda.

Key words: Complexity Theory; Sociocognitive Theory; Language Acquisition (LA); Language Socialization

1. Introduction

Human language is exclusively a human property. It is indeed a social behavior that coexists with any human being wherever they may be, mainly because human beings are created to be social and because they need to communicate with other society members through exchanging knowledge, beliefs, opinions, feelings, etc. In one of his famous statements about language and the social aspects of human nature, Sapir (1921) argued that language “is a great force of socialization, probably the greatest that exists” (cited in Mandelbaum, 1958, p. 15).

The term language socialization represents a broad framework having as a primary goal the understanding of the development of linguistic, cultural, and communicative competence through children’s verbal interaction with more proficient individuals (Duff & Talmy, 2011). It is also defined by Duff and





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Kobayashi (2010) as a process by which newcomers in a community or culture acquire communicative competence, membership, and legitimacy in that community through social interaction and (often) overt assistance, and by contributing in the group activities.

As far as a novice’s membership in one particular speech community is concerned, Moore (2008) explained this issue by claiming that a novice is socialized through the use of language, and is socialized to use it through engaging in communicative encounters and in routine interactions with more knowledgeable members in order to become an active and a competent member in that community. In this sense, language socialization is not restricted to only language use and developmental processes, but it also covers the issue of the effect of those processes upon learners being accepted in the target community and their own statuses in it (Ochs & Schieffelin, 1986). In other words; the intended purpose of language socialization researchers exceeds the acquisition of linguistic conventions and pragmatics to reach the adoption of identities, stances, ideologies, and other behaviors that enable a novice to behave and be treated appropriately in the new community (Ochs & Schieffelin, 1986).

The genesis of language socialization as a paradigm was in the early 1980s by Elinor Ochs and Bambi Schieffelin, the linguistic anthropologists who conducted extensive fieldwork in non-Western societies. Between 1975 and 1977, Schieffelin conducted a longitudinal study of childern’s language acquisition among the Kaluli people of Papua New Guinea; between 1978 and 1979, Ochs conducted a longitudinal study of Samoan children’s language acquisition (Ochs & Schieffelin, 1984). Both researchers tended to bridge the gap between two totally separate and distinctive fields of inquiry: (1) developmental psycholinguistic research on first language acquisition, and (2) anthropological research on child socialization.

Language acquisition research focused on the individual either as acquirer or provider of language. In contrast, anthropological research depicted different communities putting the sociocultural context at the center of analysis (Moore, 2008). Schieffelin and Ochs (1986) based themselves on the premise that, for a better understanding of the two fields, they should be viewed and studied as two interacting and interdependent disciplines of scholarship whereas Moore explained, from Ochs and Schieffelin’s vision, that an interaction between a child and a caregiver should be studied as a cultural phenomenon embedded in the wider systems of cultural meaning and social order of the society in which the child is being socialized (Moore, 2008).

From its beginning language socialization research was concerned with theoretical and applied issues and it evolved to be the concern of many researchers who, according to their own visions and tendencies, expanded its





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scope to second language acquisition and contributed to its emergence in the early 1980s as a new area of scholarship in applied linguistics (Duff & Talmy, 2011). They even helped language socialization paradigm to integrate theoretical perspectives and methods from a variety of disciplines such as (1) linguistic anthropology, (e.g., Duranti, Ochs, & Schieffelin, in press; Hymes, 1972; Schieffelin & Ochs, 1986a), (2) sociology (e.g., Bernstein, 1972; Bourdieu, 1977; Giddens, 1979, 1984), (3) cultural psychology (e.g., Lave & Wenger, 1991; Rogoff, 1995, 2003), (4) systemic functional linguistics (e.g., Halliday, 1980, 2003), (5) semiotics (e.g., Hanks, 1992); (6) cultural-historical psychology/sociocultural theory and activity theory (e.g., Engestrom, 1999; Leontiev, 1981; Vygotsky, 1978), and more recently, (6) discursive psychology including positioning theory (e.g., Bamberg, 2000; Korobov & Bamberg, 2004).

Within language socialization, we distinguish two types: (a) first language (L1) socialization, and (b) second language (L2) socialization. In contrast to first language (L1) socialization, second language (L2) socialization deals with issues related to children or adults with already constructed repertoires including linguistic, discursive and cultural practices as they interact with veterans from a new community. Moreover, it should be noted that second language (L2) socialization is bidirectional where the more proficient interlocutors are also socialized by novices into their identities, and they may learn from the newcomers their specific communicative needs and may also learn from these learners’ perspectives and prior experiences (Duff & Talmy, 2011).

In the socialization paradigm the concept of communicative competence is central. This concept was firstly proposed by Hymes (1972), who defined it as the learner’s ability to appropriately use grammatically correct language in real context. Communication in Hymes’ viewpoint (1972, cited in Salmani Nodoushan, 2013) entails two steps where the speaker is supposed (1) to construct an evaluative vision about the speech context, and then (2) to decide upon the appropriate communicative options that enable him to encode what he intends to convey as a message (cf., Allen & Salmani Nodoushan, 2015; Capone & Salmani Nodoushan, 2014; Salmani Nodoushan, 1995; 2006a,b; 2007a,b; 2008a,b; 2012; 2014; 2015; 2016a,b,c; 2017; 2016; Salmani Nodoushan & Allami, 2011). Researchers interested in language socialization focus on the development of this competence as a process in which a novice is socialized into the linguistic and the socio cultural activities of the target speech community (Moore, 2008 ).

Also fundamental to this paradigm is the notion of ‘practice’ which is represented in language socialization by speaking and listening. This practice enables the novice to participate in community activities with increasing





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competence and commitment into community practices (Bourdieu, 1977).

In language socialization, research studies are typically ethnographic. Generally speaking, ethnographic research tends to understand the cultural patterns and values of groups in their local contexts (Duff & Talmy, 2011). As this type of research is based on persistent engagement in and on extensive observation of contexts, it helps researchers to have access to a broad description of the cultures, communities and other dynamic social settings (Bronson & Watson-Gegeo, 2008; Duff, 1995; Schieffelin & Ochs, 1996).

Garrett (2008) identified the core methodological features of language socialization research by summing them up under the following:

1) Longitudinal research design: As language socialization studies develop, it is necessary to cover the different transformations that occur over a period of time and engender development.

2) Field-based collection and analysis of a substantial corpus of audio or video recorded naturalistic discourse: This enables the researcher to repeatedly examine communicative behaviors and to identify patterns in novice interactions in close detail.

3) Holistic and theoretically-informed ethnographic perspective: From this perspective, researchers refer to prior research on the target social community from a variety of disciplines to give a locus to their study in the broader social, cultural, and historical context.

As such, a language socialization researcher is not restricted to study the detailed ethnographic accounts of the development of individuals in specific social communities, but he/she goes further to comprehend how these developmental processes relate to social, cultural, and historical processes (Moore, 2008).

As language acquisition socialization research is mostly concerned with bringing together an analysis of social, cultural, and cognitive dimensions of situated language learning, it seems highly compatible with two newly emerging theories: (1) the Sociocognitive Theory (cf., Atkinson, 2002) and the (2) the Complexity Theory (cf., Larsen-Freeman, 1997); both of these theories consider the cognitive and the social to be intricately interwoven and mutually constitutive. Along the same lines, the present paper attempts firstly to elucidate language acquisition aspects, and secondly to contribute to a greater understanding of both theories through shedding light on their insights and conducting a comparative analysis on them to find answers to the following questions:

1) What are the commonalities and differences of Sociocognitive and Complexity theories?





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2) What do they have in common with language socialization approach, and how do they differ from it?

3) To what extent do they contribute to shape a language acquisition research agenda?

2. Language acquisition: Cognitive, social, and social-cognitive aspects

From its early days, second language acquisition focused on the cognitive dimensions of language acquisition. After that, the scope of this focus was broadened to include socially-oriented dimension of the acquisition process. Thus, second language acquisition researchers were divided into two camps: (a) Those who called for the cognitive aspect maintaining that SLA is basically cognitive, and (b) those who rejected that stance and emphasized the primacy of the social account of SLA. Recently, however, a new trend emerged to accommodate both the cognitive and the social aspects.

The first trend represented by cognitivists was influential over the past thirty years or so (cf., Doughty & Williams, 1998; Gass, 1997). Cognitive approaches have tended to focus on the patterns that can be observed in the output produced by the learner without referring to the learner’s nature or the context in which he is learning (Doughty & Long, 2003). Hence, experimental approaches prioritized the treatment of decontextualized language samples where the crucial focus of interest has been on either the cognitive representation or processing of linguistic information (Robinson & Ellis, 2008); nevertheless, the cognitive accounts appear to have a social orientation. From this perspective, the cognitivists argue that language acquisition has its genesis in processes of turn-taking in language use, and that interaction is understood as a mechanism for generating input thereby activating the various cognitive mechanisms involved in information processing (Batstone, 2010). Moreover, the concept of negotiation either of meaning (Long, 1996) or of form (Lyster & Ranta, 1997) is also central to cognitive accounts. Due to these accounts and arguments, cognitive approaches have been criticized for decontextualizing language—which cannot be separated from the context in which it is produced (Block, 2003).

The second trend is represented by theorists who are thought to be socially oriented researchers (e.g., Wagner, 2004), and who argue that although the mind is undoubtedly involved in the process of language learning, factors such as (a) the contextualized nature of language, (b) the role of social factors, and (c) the importance of social participation should not be marginalized. Wagner, for instance, argued that:

The theory of learning as participation simply avoids statements about the participants’ inner states. The participants are socialized into





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practices, but the description has no means to show what kind of inner states are related to the process of becoming a member in a social group.

(Wagner, 2004, p. 614)

Based on Wagner’s (2004) stance, the mental aspect of language was not denied, but it was rather left to other methodologies. The focus should be on participation itself rather than on the learning that might occur within the interactive context. Dornyei and Ushioda (2009) added that, from a social perspective, the learner’s identity has its roots in the social relations he experienced within one specific community.

However, from the perspective of the sociocultural theory, the social is seen as interacting with dimensions of mental processes where the innate is transformed through socially constructed processes. That is, biological constructs such as attention and memory are seen to be crucially impacted through encounters with other activities and concepts (cf., Lantolf, 2006). This vision led to the emergence of a third trend.

The third trend based itself on the view that neither language use nor language learning can be adequately defined or understood without recognizing that they have both a social and a cognitive dimension which interact (Batstone, 2010). Watson-Gegeo and Nielsen (2003, p. 156) argue that:

The cognitive/social dichotomy widely taken for granted in SLA theory obscures the relationship between the knowledge about language that learners construct and the social, cultural, and political contexts in which acquisition takes place. Cognition originates in social interaction. Constructing new knowledge is therefore both a cognitive and a social process. SLA theory’s [sic] need for just this sort of integrative perspective is one of the arguments for taking a language socialization approach in L2 research.

Indeed, the social and the cognitive were the concern of many researchers. However, they might have been distinguished according to their relative view on the relative primacy of the social versus the cognitive. From this perspective, Duff and Kobayashi (2010) claim that none is superior and suggest the language socialization approach as a good example combining the two tendencies and offering an interesting way of contextualizing and theorizing activity-based language learning, tasks, participants, and communities or cultures. The following section explicates successively the rationale of the sociocognitive and the complexity theories as two good examples supporting the duality of second language acquisition that is





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represented by the social and the cognitive dimensions. Also it elicits the methodological principles on which they are based; it highlights the commonalities and the differences that exist among them, and points out the points of convergence and divergence that they have with language socialization.

3. The Sociocognitive theory

Sociocognition is a concept introduced by Atkinson (2002) to accentuate the interplay between the physical and the social worlds to which individuals are attuned, and even the patterns they produce and use internally. Batstone (2010, p. 5) argues that “Sociocognition is based on the view that neither language use nor language learning can be adequately defined or understood without recognizing that they have both a social and a cognitive dimension which interact.”

Sociocognition as a theory is viewed by Bandura (1985) as an explanation of how humans think, and why they are motivated to follow particular actions in society. As far as learning is concerned, it is defined from a sociocognitive perspective as an internal mental process that may or may not be reflected in immediate behavioral change (Bandura, 1986). Learners, as practitioners, are viewed as dialectically connected to the social contexts in a synergetic relation (Meskill & Rangelova, 2000). To sustain the rationale of the sociocognitive paradigm, Atkinson (2002, p. 537) calls for a greater integration of the social and cognitive in L2 research, with a greater focus on the process of the learner’s inclusion and participation within situated linguistic activities:

a sociocognitive approach to SLA would take the social dimension of language and its acquisition seriously . . . . Second, language and its acquisition would be fully integrated into other activities, people, and things in a sociocognitive approach to SLA. They would be seen as integral parts of larger sociocognitive wholes, or, in Gee’s (1992) term, Discourses . . . . Third, language and its acquisition, from a sociocognitive perspective, would be seen in terms of ‘action’ and ‘participation’—as providing an extremely powerful semiotic means of performing and participating in activity-in-the-world (Rogoff, 1990, 1998; Lave and Wenger, 1991). Finally, a sociocognitive perspective should not, strictly speaking, exclude. As an approach to language, it is fundamentally cognitive and fundamentally social . . . it argues for the profound interdependency and integration of both.

Sociocognitively speaking, second language learners can learn a language in a better way if their cognitive capabilities are employed along with their social





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interactions. This view was, in fact, underpinned by the sociocultural theory presented by Vygotsky (1978) who stated that human beings’ cognition is defined in relation to the social interaction of the individual within his own culture where his thoughts, actions, and experiences are all socially and culturally mediated. Moreover, he claimed that individuals will be able to learn and develop when they are capable to differentiate individual consciousness from others and from the environment (Vygotsky, 1978). With the aim of making his theory more explicit, Atkinson (2010b) presents three principles on which sociocognitive approach to second language acquisition is based: (1) The Inseparability principle, (2) the Learning-Is-Adaptive principle, and (3) the Alignment principle.

The Inseparability principle: According to Batstone (2010; cited in Atkinson (2010b, p. 27), the inseparability principle is the one in which: “. . . the social and the cognitive are indivisible and can only be properly understood by keeping their essential unity intact.” More explicitly, Atkinson (2010b, p. 27) explicates that “Mind, body, and ecosocial world are inseparable contributors to SLA processes, so to understand such processes these elements must be considered together.”

The Learning-is-adaptive principle: In this principle, Atkinson (2010b, p. 27) claims that “learning is largely a process of better adapting to our ecosocial environment.” Although he admits that the mainstream learning theories, including SLA studies, assume that learning occurs for its own sake being conceptualized as progressive separation of knowledge from the environment, Atkinson states the opposite arguing that since cognition is ecosocial entailing the adaptive action; as the embodied cognition enables humans to adapt to their environments, and as learning is cognitive process, thus learning is adaptive (Atkinson, 2010b).

The Alignment Principle: It is the third principle, and turns around the construction of the social meaning. It is conceptualized by Atkinson (2010b) as a major mechanism of SLA, where the participants, due to the participation in the ongoing construction of meaning in sociocognitive space, learn how to mean in an L2. He extends this conceptualization by defining alignment as “. . . the means by which social actors participate in the ongoing construction of social meaning and action in public/sociocognitive space. In mutually attending, negotiating, sharing information and emotions, solving interactional/ communicative problems, building participation frameworks, interacting with their extended cognitive surroundings, etc., social actors dynamically adapt to their environments, creating shared meaning in mind-body-world” (Atkinson, 2010b, p. 29).





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In the sociocognitive paradigm, according to Atkinson (2011), SLA research study is just beginning, and any account of its research methods must be emergent and prospective. He maintained an exploratory set of methodological principles on which sociocognitively oriented SLA research might be based claiming that his ultimate purpose is merely to provide guidance in designing studies that can deepen our understanding of how mind, body, and the world work together in SLA.

One of the core claims of sociocognition is the extension of mind into the world through social tools and systems, where Atkinson (2010a, 2010b) justifies the interest of socio-cognitive methodologies in looking for cognition in worldly artifacts and practices and mainly in how they integrate mind, body, and the world. Starting from the premise that much, if not all, L2 learning takes place via interaction, Atkinson believes that sociocognitive research methodologies would therefore examine language learning in interaction, and put the emphasis on studying real-world L2 use.

Although SLA is a process, mainstream SLA research focused typically on the linguistic products of SLA based upon knowledge of language as object (Doughty, 2003). From a sociocognitive viewpoint, Atkinson (2010a,b) argues that SLA is a continuous, complex, nonlinear process that takes place at the level of interaction. Atkinson favors the variety of the individuals’ experiences since it enriches the researcher’s understanding of human beings; without denying the existence of the common developmental trajectories, he appeals to the rejection of uniform, mechanical, teleological development as a necessary guiding assumption of SLA research.

4. The Complexity theory

The Complexity theory is defined by Larsen-Freeman (1997) as a theory that seeks to explain complex, dynamic, open, adaptive, self-organizing, nonlinear systems. It focuses on the close interplay between the emergence of structure on the one hand, and process or change on the other. It has its roots in the physical sciences, but it has been applied to many social sciences such as economics, epidemiology, and organizational development. This is because complexity theory affords a transdisciplinary perspective (Halliday, 1990). Rather than seeing the world through a deterministic, reductionist, Newtonian lens, complexity theorists adopt a more holistic perspective (Larsen-Freeman, 1997).

Larsen-Freeman (2011, p. 49) perceived deep parallelism with language acquisition which she explains in her words as:

. . . in contrast to my own (generative) training in linguistics, I came to understand language as a complex adaptive system, which emerges





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bottom-up from interactions of multiple agents in speech communities rather than a static system composed of top-down grammatical rules or principles. The system is adaptive because it changes to fit new circumstances, which are also themselves continually changing.

In Complexity theory, Larsen-Freeman (2002, 2007) looked for a way to integrate the social and the cognitive rather than segregating them. The issue of interconnectedness is crucial to complex systems, and of great importance, when dealing with language which is viewed by Larsen-Freeman (2008) as arguably complex systems. Hence, it provides a ground to unite different language phenomena such as language development, its evolution, its learning, its teaching, and its use. From this perspective, Larsen-Freeman claims that “Complexity theory characterizes this relationship by suggesting that cognitive and social forces operate simultaneously, albeit on different levels and at different timescales” (2010, p. 51) where the linguistic system can be “. . . defined as a dynamic adaptedness to a specific context” (Tucker & Hirsch-Pasek, 1993, p. 362). Language learners modify and change their language resources, as they try to adapt their language resources to new contexts leading to the emergence of a reciprocal causality between the language system and its use to become mutually constitutive. Additionally, a common dynamic process operating at different time frames is manifested by language use and language learning. In other words language learning occurs when people use it (Larsen-Freeman, 2010).

When it comes to second language learning, the contrast between instructed and uninstructed context is invoked by Larsen-Freeman (2003), who believes that few generalizations may be held across different learning contexts. From a Complexity theory point of view, language learners must be provided with abundant opportunities of language practice. Moreover, Larsen-Freeman (2010) proposes that we should ‘teach grammaring’ rather than ‘grammar’. Within the ‘grammaring’ approach, the dynamism of language learning and use should be extended to the construction of meaning through adopting a psychologically authentic approach. Moreover, she introduced a set of theoretical principles on which her theory is based. The three main principles are explained below.

The first principle considers language as a dynamic set of patterns emerging from use, where those patterns transform into stable entities within a complex system. In this sense, Beckner et al., (2009, p. 11) argues that “Sequences of elements come to be automatized as neuromotor routines,” with grammar considered as a by-product of communication not as the source of understanding and communication (Hopper, 1998). They are patterns which Tomasello (2003) calls ‘constructions’—i.e., form–meaning–use composites, having graded





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borders not discrete ones, ranging from single morphemes to idioms to partially filled lexical patterns to complex clauses (Larsen-Freeman, 2011).

The second principle focuses on the adaptation of language-using patterns to their context of use. As Larsen-Freeman (2011, p. 53) stated, “As with other complex systems, language-using patterns are heterochronous: Language events on some local timescale may simultaneously be part of language change on longer timescales,” and “the system changes every time a form is used.”

The third principle deals with language development which proceeds through soft-assembly and co-adaptation in social context. From a complexity theory perspective, such a context contributes significantly to language development by affording possibilities for co-adaptation between interlocutors (Larsen-Freeman, 2010). According to Larsen- Freeman, co-adaptation is an iterative process; indeed, language development itself can be described as an iterative process with learners visiting the same or similar territory repeatedly. With each visit, learners soft-assemble their language resources. The term soft- assembly was coined by Thelen and Smith (1994), who thought that an assembly is said to be ‘soft’ because the elements being assembled, and even the ways they are assembled, can change at any point during the task or from one task to another.

In complexity theory, research was a challenge that compelled researchers to rethink traditional research designs because, according to Larsen-Freeman and Cameron (2008b), it has to deal with dynamic, nonlinear, open complex systems that are organized and interacted across different levels and timescales. The challenge was represented firstly by the problematic nature of limiting the focal point of interest and of singling it out from the whole mainly that everything is interconnected, and secondly by specifying the boundaries of a complex system that is open to the environment (Cilliers, 2001). Bateson (1972, p. 465) explains that the “way to delineate the system is to draw the limiting line in such a way that you do not cut any of these pathways in ways which leave things inexplicable.”

To solve these problems, three methods were proposed by Van Gelder and Port (1995) for studying dynamic systems: (a) quantitative model, (b) qualitative model, and (c) dynamical description. In the quantitative model, Larsen-Freeman (2011) claims that complexity researchers prefer adopting computer simulations; although they are approximations, they are easy to manipulate and can help to provide more explorations on different factors and variations influencing the phenomenon at hand. This choice was taken deliberately due to intrinsic difficulty they find when dealing with human





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beings using mathematical models.

The Qualitative model, using computer simulation, was employed in applied linguistics from a complexity theory perspective (Meara, 2006). This model, according to Larsen-Freeman (2011), proved its usefulness because computers are programmed on the basis of explicit assumptions where the researcher finds himself forced to make explicit the assumptions he puts about the complex system he is investigating. Additionally, it was used successfully in social sciences to cope with large-scale regularities from individual agents interacting locally.

The third model is concerned with dynamical description of complex systems. From this perspective, Van Gelder and Port (1995, p. 17) state that this model “provides a general conceptual apparatus for understanding . . . systems including, in particular, nonlinear systems and change over time.” The ethnographic method is also employed since it provides dynamic descriptions which, in Atkinson’s view, “attempts to honor the profound wholeness and situatedness of social scenes and individuals in the-world” (2002, p. 539).

Larsen-freeman (2011) believes that the central work of complexity theory is to describe complex systems retrospectively. That is, once change has happened, unlike the usual scientific method which calls for making predictions and then testing them, it may lead to problems from a complexity theory perspective. However, she explicitly admits the inability of the theory to offer useful tools that help to provide accurate details about individual changes and dynamic cases (Larsen-Freeman, 2011, p. 63):

Complexity theory increases our understanding of complex systems, but it does not present us with tools to predict or control behavior accurately. We may thus learn a lot about the dynamics involved in the functioning of such systems, but we will not be able to use these general principles to make accurate predictions in individual cases. Complexity theory underscores the importance of contingent factors, of considering the specific conditions in a specific context at a specific time. No general model can capture such singularities.

The rationales of the two theories as well as their theoretical underpinnings, and also their methodological principles, have been presented up to here, and now a comparative overview will be presented in the following section.

5. Sociocognitive theory vis-à-vis complexity theory

A thorough understanding of the two theories as newly emerging ones shows that Larsen-Freeman’s complexity theory approach to SLA has much in common with Atkinson’s sociocognitive approach. Indeed, it has partly





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inspired it (Atkinson, 2002). Larsen- Freeman (2008) adopted the sociocognitive concept, where she declared in different settings her inclination towards the integration of sociocognitive approach implicitly and explicitly.

Complexity theory shares features with the sociocognitive theory, such as the unified view of the social, the cognitive, the groundedness in data, the attention to detail in conversation analysis, and the adaptation principle. Moreover, complexity theory shares with the sociocognitive theory the view that cognition (or higher mental functions) emerges from ongoing social interaction, and that mind affects the social contexts it operates in. That is, both support the surrounding accounts of learning that place its locus exclusively neither in the brain/body nor in social interaction, but in their intersection (Larsen-Freeman, 2011)

Speaking about the differences existing between the two theories, we may mention two major ones: the divergent origins of complexity theory, and the sociocognitive approach. The former originated in statistical physics and systems theory—i.e., mathematical approaches to describing natural processes. The latter would be wary of mathematically inspired explanations of human behavior, given the origins of cognitivism in a mathematized and mechanistic worldview (Atkinson, 2011). The second difference has to do with research methods adopted by each theory. As mentioned by Larsen- Freeman (2011), complexity theory relies on a retrospective approach in studying natural processes, including SLA. However, in the sociocognitive approach, processes are studied ‘in-process’. Nevertheless, there were attempts to study learning processes as they unfold, rather than after they have happened.

In the realm of SLA research, researchers impacted by the Chomskyan approach to language draw on other methods of investigation from other disciplines in order to objectively understand the phenomenon of language acquisition that is viewed as something residing within the individual relying on psychological factors (cf., Navidinia, 2010). Complexity theory and sociocognitive theory represent two typical examples which still reflect a more philosophical framework than a sustained and systematic empirical approach to SLA. Because both theories are still new in their empirical investigations of SLA, it remains unclear what their typical methodological approach or linguistic focus will be (Duff & Talmy, 2011).

6. Sociocognitive and complexity theories and language socialization

In fact, from what went before, it can be argued that complexity and sociocognitive theories have much in common with language socialization. They all share a social, interactional, and cognitive orientation to language





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learning which is regarded as a set of processes that reflect the development of the human mind (Duff, 2007). They also appreciate the necessity of culturally organized and interactional activities for meaning-making and learning, insisting on the key role played by more proficient interlocutors, peers, caregivers, or teachers in helping novices or newcomers to actualize their potentials by means of assistance and scaffolding (Larsen-Freeman, 2011).

However, language socialization differs from these two theories in important ways. Unlike language socialization which puts a greater emphasis on the social and the cultural in psychological experience, including language learning, sociocognitive and complexity theories prioritize linguistic forms that are acquired by learners in the context of social interaction (Duff & Talmy, 2011). Additionally, socialization research, when dealing with L2, deals simultaneously with the socialization of L1, L2, and multilingual learners in situations of language contact (Moore, 2008). Furthermore, language socialization research and theory has long been concerned with both the language and learning practices of novice members of society and those of experts, as well as the development they reach along their lifespan through encountering new forms of language use. However, with the two theories, it is only recently that SLA has become more interested in the relationship between learning and oral language development (Tarone & Bigelow, 2009).

7. Conclusion

Through this paper, it was clearly stated that, as a theoretical and methodological approach, language socialization has taken roots over the past two decades, builds on different disciplines to show how learning and social experience go hand in hand and are part of a process of internalization, performance, and personal transformation through mutual engagements with others as learners become better equipped to function in society as communicatively competent members (Duff, 2007a). This vision was depicted through analyzing two distinctive and newly emerging theories: the sociocognitive theory and the complexity theory, both of which emerged to bring together an analysis of social, cultural, and cognitive dimensions of situated language learning, and both of which share many viewpoints with language socialization and differ from it in several ways.

Through this review, we have sketched the sociocognitive approach to SLA which attempts to study human mind as it extends into the body and ecosocial world. Nevertheless, in Atkinson’s view (2011, p. 38), “Most uses of the term ‘sociocognitive’ stop well short of this point, still relying in one way or other on the old inadequate cognitive/social division.” The Complexity





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theory was also highlighted where its stance in theorizing language behavior in SLA in particular is summarized by Kramsch (2009, p. 247), who argues:

Complexity theory, which originated in the physical sciences, has been used as a productive metaphor in SLA to stress the relativity of self and other, the need to consider events on more than one timescale and to take into account the fractal nature and unfinalizability of events.

Finally, irrespective of the commonalities and differences among the various alternative approaches to language acquisition (LA), they still continue to evolve and lead language acquisition (LA), as a scholarship discipline, to be enriched by more in–depth and largely contextualized research studies.

The Author

Assia Baghdadi (Email: is a lecturer in cognitive psychology and pragmatics at the University of M’sila in Algeria. She is also a researcher interested in applied linguistics, psycho-pedagogy, and the teaching and learning of foreign languages. She has different publications about the methodology of teaching and learning of foreign languages and language learner cognition.


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