Linking adult second language learning and diachronic change: a cautionary note

Vera Kempe, Patricia J. Brooks

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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It has been suggested that the morphological complexity of a language is negatively correlated with the size of its population of speakers. This relationship may be driven by the proportion of non-native speakers, among other things, and reflects adaptations to learning constraints imposed by adult language learners. Here we sound a note of caution with respect to these claims by arguing that (a) morphological complexity is defined in somewhat contradictory ways and hence not straightforward to measure, and (b) there is insufficient evidence to suggest that children’s cognitive limitations support mechanisms beneficial for learning of complex morphology relative to adults. We suggest that considering the informational value of morphological cues may be a better way to capture learnability of morphology. To settle the issue of how age related constraints on learning might impact language change, more cross-linguistic studies comparing learning trajectories of different second languages and laboratory experiments examining language transmission in children and adults are needed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number480
Number of pages5
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2018

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