Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


44th Annual Convention; San Diego, CA; 2018

Event Details

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B. F. Skinner Lecture Series Paper Session #270

A Complex Adaptive Systems View of Language and Second Language Development

Sunday, May 27, 2018
12:00 PM–12:50 PM
Marriott Marquis, Grand Ballroom 7-9
Area: VRB; Domain: Applied Research
CE Instructor: Judah B. Axe, Ph.D.
Chair: Judah B. Axe (Simmons College)
DIANE LARSEN-FREEMAN (University of Michigan; University of Pennsylvania)
Diane Larsen-Freeman (Ph.D., Linguistics, University of Michigan) is a Professor Emerita in Linguistics and Education at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Professor Emerita at the Graduate SIT Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont. She is currently a Visiting Senior Fellow in Educational Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Her books relevant to the B.F. Skinner lecture are Language as a Complex Adaptive System (co-edited with Nick Ellis, Wiley-Blackwell) and Complex Systems and Applied Linguistics (co-authored with Lynne Cameron, Oxford University Press). The latter won the Kenneth W. Mildenberger book prize, awarded by the Modern Language Association.

Language is a complex adaptive system (CAS). Its evolution, development in learners, and use are historically contingent and emergent. Its patterns emerge from social interaction in an environment, which both structures and is structured by iterative language use. Frequently-occurring patterns provide the system some stability; however, change is immanent in the system, brought about by its users co-adapting to an ever-changing environment. It is this co-adaptation that is the source of creativity and innovation in meaning making in a pragmatically appropriate manner. This view of language as a CAS represents a challenge to more traditional views of second language development. It suggests that there is neither linguistic innateness nor an endpoint to the development, certainly not one that is isomorphic with native speaker use. It at least partly explains why there is ubiquitous variability in the process and why given the nature of the process the learner's linguistic system is free to develop along alternative trajectories. These claims will be supported with both corpus and longitudinal developmental data.

Target Audience:

Researchers and practitioners interested in theories of language and language development.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of the presentation, attendees will be able to: (1) describe some of the fundamental characteristics of language as a complex adaptive system; (2) compare these characteristics with those of the rational behaviorism of B.F. Skinner; (3) assess the value of a view of language as a complex system for practitioners



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