Professor BrianMacWhinney from Carnegie Mellon university was invited to give a lecture on muldimimensional SLA on the evening of May 5, 2017. As a key figure at thePsychology, Modern Languages, Language Technologies Institute, he specializesin first and second language acquisition, psycholinguistics andneurolinguistics. The talk was charied by Prefessor Dong Yanping, director ofthe Bilingual Cognition and Development Lab.
In the beginning, Prof. MacWhinney pointed out that the studies of SLA needed boththeory and methodology. Theoretically, he addressed the issue from theperspective of emergentism, which had its origin in Charles Darwin’s idea ofproliferation, competition, and selection. Language was multidimensional innature for having hierarchical structures of different subsystems -- audition,articulation, lexicon, syntax, mental model and discourse. In addition,language included timeframes of processing, consolidation, social diffusion andgenetic diffusion. The concept of emergence was vividly illustrated by thechemical equation of the formation of water molecule and the four levels ofprotein folding, both of which had levels where structure came out withconstraints. As timeframes exerted their impact in the moment of communicationdue to competing motivations, it was necessary for researchers to capture datain actual moments by meshing frames. Methodologies like classroom-basedresearch and lab experiments had their shortcomings of inconsistentadministration and lack of authenticity. Prof. MaWhinney therefore developedthe SLA web-based system called TalkBank by taking advantages of corpusanalysis methods and web experiments. For the later part of the lecture, he demonstratedthe components of TalkBank, including cognitive test library, practice tutors,concept tutors, captioned video, corpus-based learning and language learning inthe wild.
Prof.MacWhinney’s talk broadened our theoretical horizons and familiarized us withthe powerful tool of TalkBank. The audience were intrigued by the underlyinglogic and his sense of humor.